March 29, 2013
DENVER — So with the injury to Ty Lawson, will the Nuggets add another point guard?
"I think we’re going to stay with our crew," George Karl said Friday night in a Pepsi Center hallway.
Somewhere between an anxious smile and a painful grimace, the Nuggets coach cracked:
"Unless Stockton wants to come out of retirement.”
No chuckles, no grins. John Stockton isn’t walking through that door, and Lawson’s injury is no laughing matter.
The injury is described as a torn plantar fascia and a strained heel. It’s in his right foot and has forced Lawson to miss four of the past five games.
No one in the locker room could say with certainty how long Lawson will be sidelined. Lawson said he doesn't know, either. In NBA parlance, he's listed as day-to-day.
Without him, the Nuggets' hopes of wrecking the playoffs would be stomped into the ground.
It isn't that Denver crumbles to pieces when its leading scorer and assists man wears a walking boot.
But on a team without a player named to the All-Star Game, there is one MVP: Lawson.
"The thing about our offense is when Ty’s on, Andre (Miller) can come in and lift us and make it better. Very seldom do we strike out with both of them," Karl said. "So we always have a motor. Most of the time we have two of them."
The Nuggets had enough to thump Brooklyn 109-87. A spirited crowd celebrated in a Friday night party. Brooklyn was out of breath.
But what the Nuggets had Friday wouldn’t be enough to contend against the best in the West. To win a series or three in the playoffs, the Nuggets need the little engine that can.
Russell Westbrook to the Thunder. Manu Ginobili to the Spurs. Marc Gasol to the Grizzlies.
Each team can win games without those players; none can play their best game without them.
That is Lawson to the Nuggets.
Denver's M.O. is to run and run until the opponent lunges for an oxygen tank or the final buzzer sounds, whichever comes first.
Karl still has Miller, the 37-year-old general, and a swingman, Andre Iguodala, who is plenty capable of playing point-forward. Keep an eye on promising Evan Fournier. He's a point guard.
Karl has mixed and matched until he found the swinging chemistry to build a top-four team in the Western Conference.
Karl can stick a new anchor leg into his track team, but the result isn't as devastating.
"I like playing good teams and figuring out rotations and how we’re going to play and who’s going to play,” he said. “That’s always the fun part of coaching.
“Right now it’s the nervous part of coaching, too.”
Brooklyn's best player, Deron Williams, had a team-high 19 points in the loss.
On a late night many years ago, Williams challenged an old friend to a 40-yard sprint. Near the finish, the NBA guard came up limping.
His opponent stopped, fearful the All-Star had just injured himself in a silly race.
Williams stood up, walked across the finish line, perfectly healthy, laughing at his own joke.
Denver needs to walk across the regular-season finish with its point guard at full health.
The Nuggets have eight games remaining before the playoffs kick into high gear.
“I think he has to get comfortable with his foot,” Karl said. “He doesn’t necessarily have to come back and play 35 minutes. If he came back and gave Andre 20 minutes for the first three or four games, that would be fine, too."
Make no mistake, these Nuggets are every bit as contender-worthy as the Spurs or Thunder.
If he isn't able to return before the playoffs, it gets real nervous around Pepsi Center.
Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (email@example.com) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).