DENVER — Winning 80 percent of your games doesn’t allow for any slacking.
At least that’s the way it is with George Karl.
The Denver Nuggets head coach watched his team’s practice Monday, and wasn’t happy with the effort. Right after a 5-on-5 scrimmage, Karl gathered the team and let them know how he felt.
“Someone told me
you can pick up some bad habits in this game, and you guys have picked up some bad (expletive) habits,” he said.
To the average fan, it might not be noticeable. But to Karl, defensive lapses in Denver’s 103-97 win at Portland on Saturday were eye-opening. Yes, it was the Nuggets’ 17th win in their last 19 games. It moved them 10 games above .500 for the first time since Dec. 28, 1989, when they were 19-9 following a 132-107 win over Miami.
As ticked as he was at the poor habits on display, Karl expected a less-than-stellar performance Monday.
“It wasn’t the best practice we ever had, but the script says it wasn’t going to be very good — a day off, winning, sunshine, NCAA Tournament,” he said. “A lot of distraction.”
The Nuggets should be focused. They take on Memphis tonight (6 p.m., Altitude), with a chance to go a game ahead of the Grizzlies in the race for the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race. The game has taken on a minor playoff feel, which has been accentuated with some talking on both sides.
“They’ve been doing a lot of talking,” center Marcus Camby said. “We’re tied with those guys. So far we have the tiebreaker, so we need this one. If we win, we’ll win the tiebreaker.”
Denver is 2-0 against Memphis this year. After today, the two teams meet one more time, April 15 in Denver.
Right now, both are 41-31, but the Nuggets have the schedule in their favor. Eight of the Grizzlies’ 10 games are against teams above .500 while Denver has only six against winning teams.
“Each game is important,” Kenyon Martin said. “We’re trying to win as many games as we can to better our situation. We’re not taking days off; we’re working every day and getting better. We plan on winning every game we play and go into the playoffs on a high note.”
The way they’ve been playing, the Nuggets will have no trouble going into the postseason on a high note.
The only thing they’re worried about is going into the playoffs on a healthy note. Martin missed the last four games with a chest contusion. Camby has missed 13 games this year with a myriad of injuries. Guard Greg Buckner will miss his second straight game with a broken bone in his right hand.
Camby didn’t do much in Monday’s practice, but Martin participated in most of the drills, and there’s a good chance he’ll be in the lineup tonight.
“It felt better,” said Martin, who is second on the team in scoring (15.3) and rebounding (7.5). “Certain movements I did bothered me.”
Camby played in the last two games after missing the previous two, and will play tonight.
Karl said Buckner has a chance to play later this week.
The Nuggets need every available body down the stretch. Starting in Memphis, the Nuggets play four games in five nights, including a matchup with the suddenly hot Minnesota Timberwolves. After that game Friday, Denver will play four of its last six at home, starting Saturday against Seattle.
“The four games are very difficult,” Karl said. “Seattle’s going to be a tough game because it’s our fourth game in five nights.”
Camby is confident the Nuggets will do fine in the last two weeks of the season.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Karl, who, along with assistant coach Doug Moe, took a detour to St. Louis to watch North Carolina play Illinois in the NCAA title game. “We’ve got to continue playing how we’ve been playing the last 20, 25 ballgames and I think we’ll be all right.”