DENVER - DerMarr Johnson jumped to get a hand on a loose ball, then dove across the Pepsi Center floor. The ball squirted out of bounds, but Johnson’s hustle in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 102-91 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in front of 16,545 at the Pepsi Center was the type of play Denver coach George Karl wanted to see.
After a disheartening loss Friday to Sacramento — Denver’s fourth in its first six games — Karl inserted Johnson into the starting lineup Sunday, explaining, “It’s just time to experiment.” The experiment worked. Johnson scored a season-high 17 points, including three 3-pointers, and had five assists. And his energy sparked one of the Nuggets’ best performances. “You tell players all the time, ‘Be ready for your opportunity,’” Karl said. “And (Johnson) was. And that’s not always the case.” Johnson, who started for Voshon Lenard, wasn’t the only new face in the starting lineup. Francisco Elson started for Kenyon Martin, who rested his ailing left knee. In the absence of Martin and forward Nenê, who injured his knee in the season opener, center Marcus Camby took care of the lane almost by himself. Camby, who has played well this season, had his fifth double-double in seven games, scoring 18 points with 22 rebounds and seven blocks. “He’s had three or four of (that type of performances) already this year where he’s just a dominant player around the basket,” Karl said. “I thought he showed he was the class player on the court. When you’re playing against Kevin Garnett, that’s a pretty impressive performance.” Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 23 points and had six rebounds and five assists. He consistently drove to the rim to score and drew fouls instead of settling for jump shots. The Nuggets, who came into Sunday’s game ranked last in the league in 3-point shooting percentage, made a season-high seven on 12 attempts. Earl Boykins, who had 16 points off the bench, and Lenard had two apiece. Denver led by seven at the half but took control with a 17-9 run to start the third quarter. Johnson scored seven points in the run while Camby ignited the Nuggets’ transition attack with three of his blocks. “Tonight was a big step forward in playing the game with a pace and an energy and with good defense,” Karl said. Karl thinks Martin is frustrated Martin, who had surgery on his knee in the offseason, said during training camp that he was excited about playing without pain for the first time in three seasons. That hasn’t happened. “He’s frustrated, and I think we’re frustrated,” Karl said. “My feeling with knees — I had a lot of knee surgeries — it seems like when you come back it always feels different. And some of it is just getting comfortable with it. And I don’t think he’s gotten to that point yet.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0365 or firstname.lastname@example.org