Nuggets avoid collapse against Memphis
Thanks to Nene and Arron Afflalo, George Karl will get to go for the 1,000th win in his NBA career in Charlotte, N.C., just a 2 1/2-hour drive down Interstate 85 from Chapel Hill, where he embarked on a life of basketball four decades ago.
''I would probably like it in Charlotte and get it over with and have some beers and keep our momentum going in a good direction,'' Karl said after the Nuggets pulled out a 108-107 victory over the scrappy Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.
The Nuggets take their seven-game winning streak to Karl's beloved North Carolina on Tuesday night, the start of a four-city trip in six nights. Chris Andersen, who was diagnosed with a fractured bone in his lower back Sunday, won't make the trip.
The 59-year-old Karl would love to join the elite fraternity as its seventh member as soon as possible — for practical reasons as much as sentimental ones.
''It's been an incredible run and I do appreciate all the good players and I appreciate my time here in Denver and I'm very humbled by my opportunity to win 1,000,'' Karl said. ''But, I'd like to get out of the spotlight and get it over with and continue to try to build this team into the best team we could have in Denver.''
The coaches he'll join once he gets into the 1,000-win club are: Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson and Bobcats coach Larry Brown, Karl's good friend and the last one in.
Karl got win No. 999 Sunday when the Nuggets overcame a third-quarter meltdown that included a technical on Carmelo Anthony for arguing a call. Anthony was just 4 of 20 from the floor for 13 points.
Making up for his off-night were Nene (27 points) and Afflalo, who scored a career-best 25.
Afflalo's 3-pointer from the left elbow with 42 seconds left gave Denver a 104-98 lead moments after he blew a breakaway layup after Chauncey Billups' steal.
''I'm glad I was able to just let that go and make an important shot that our team needed,'' Afflalo said.
After Mike Conley's drive pulled the Grizzlies to 104-102, Anthony saw nobody was deep downcourt and lofted a long pass to Nene, whose rim-rattling slam with 5.9 seconds left made it a four-point game.
It still wasn't decided, however. Conley's inbounds pass was dunked by Henry with 5.3 seconds left and Billups was fouled with 4.8 seconds remaining. He sank both for a 108-104 lead.
Conley's uncontested 3-pointer with a tenth of a second left provided the final score.
''We've had a bad habit on this home stretch about getting big leads and losing them,'' Afflalo said. ''So, we have to do a much better job of maintaining our focus and maintaining our lead.''
Rudy Gay led the Grizzlies with 24 points.
The Nuggets jumped out to a 33-16 lead after one quarter, led by 21 and were up 62-47 at halftime. But instead of cruising, Denver coughed up the big lead in a terrible third quarter that began with them missing 12 of their first 15 shots.
''We felt they would let us back into the game,'' Conley said. ''They're a team that plays off of spurts. They can go 9 for 10 from 3 and then go 0 for 12. We knew we were going to have our shot to get back into the game and we just needed to chip away, and we did at the end of the second quarter. Then we got it down to where we wanted in the third and fourth quarter.''
Memphis led 77-76 heading into the fourth quarter.
J.R. Smith's steal and three-point play put the Nuggets ahead 83-81 and settled them down as they used a 13-4 run to regain control. Afflalo had six points in that stretch.
Anthony's jumper with 3 minutes left gave the Nuggets some breathing room with a 100-91 lead, but nothing was going to be easy on this night and the Grizzlies chipped away and pulled to 101-98 on rookie Xavier Henry's drive with a minute left.
Conley finished with 19 points and Zach Randolph had 18 points and a dozen rebounds for Memphis.
''We make free throws tonight we win the game,'' Memphis coach Lionel Hollins said. ''I would have liked to have seen us go 15 for 17 from the free throw line and give ourselves a chance.''
Instead, they went 11 for 17 and Karl got within one win of his milestone.
NOTES: Karl, who is talking with the Nuggets about an extension through the 2011-12 season, is 999-677 for a winning percentage of .596. ... The Nuggets are 10-1 at home after winning all five in a homestand. ... Henry had a season-best 17 points. ... Andersen was injured Friday night in a nasty spill. Tests Sunday revealed a small fracture in his transverse process and the Nuggets expect him to miss 10 to 14 days.