One problem with performing basketball magic. You can’t stop after one season. George Karl resurrected the Denver Nuggets last season, took a stumbling squad and pushed it to the NBA’s best record after the All-Star break. During the Nuggets’ season-ending 25-4 tear, crowds at the Pepsi Center resembled those found at a revival service. There was serious love in the air. a Thursday at the Nuggets’ practice court. “There’s no way in hell I could have expected what had last ” Now, all Karl must do is deliver more magic. He will watch tonight’s season-opener on a TV somewhere in San Antonio while he serves a twogame NBA suspension. The Nuggets play the defending champion Spurs at 7 p.m. The Nuggets are the popular pick to win the Northwest Division and the season will rank as a disappointment if they don’t travel to at least the Western Conference finals. “We took an incredible step,” Karl said. “I like high expectations. It’s painful at times when you don’t live up to them, but it pushes you to progress.” Remember, this is a team that ranked as the NBA’s worst in 2002-2003. Remember, this is a team that never has been to the Western Conference finals. But this is a team in the true sense of the word. The Nuggets don’t boast a marquee player, a dazzling star who carries the team. The Spurs have Tim Duncan. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant. The SuperSonics have Ray Allen. The Nuggets’ biggest star is a man with a soft stomach. He waddles instead of walking. The Nuggets’ star is Karl. He was masterful last season at forcing his players to dump personal ambition. The Nuggets attacked the game, played with generosity and hustle and thrived despite a lack of outside shooting. Now, all Karl wants is more. He knows he’ll be chasing the Spurs, basketball’s ultimate empire. He knows he must maximize performance and eliminate strife. “For any team to be good, there has to be trust between player and player,” Karl said. “San Antonio trusts each other. There’s no bickering amongst them. There’s no complaining.” The Spurs ended the Nuggets’ sweet ride last season. Denver roared into the first round of the playoffs as the NBA’s hottest team and even shocked the Spurs in the first game of the series. Then the Spurs awoke and thumped the Nuggets in four straight games. Karl respects the Spurs. He admires Duncan, the planet’s best player. He believes Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker don’t get the attention they deserve. And he wants to imitate Gregg Popovich, the Air Force Academy graduate who rules the Spurs. Karl caught himself admiring the Spurs during the Nuggets’ painful exit. He gazed on the court and watched a basketball machine roll right over the Nuggets. “I’m watching them beat us,” Karl said, thinking back to the losses, “and they’re beating us because they have a little more toughness, a little more belief.” And, maybe, even a little more magic. Columnist David Ramsey can be reached at 476-4895 or email@example.com
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