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KLEE: After upset losses in playoffs, the pressure's on Broncos and Nuggets

By: Paul Klee
May 14, 2013 Updated: May 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm
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photo - Denver Broncos coach John Fox watches his rookies workout during NFL football rookie minicamp at the team's training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Friday, May 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
Denver Broncos coach John Fox watches his rookies workout during NFL football rookie minicamp at the team's training facility in Englewood, Colo., on Friday, May 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) 

DENVER - There was a moment in George Karl's postseason press conference when I thought the Nuggets coach might break down.

It happened when Karl was asked an ordinary question: Does Denver's success during the regular season make it tougher to stomach an upset loss in the NBA playoffs?

Funny, you could ask John Fox the same thing.

"Not to make it work in the playoffs is a heavy burden on me," Karl said. "Of course my (playoff) record speaks for itself. Even though I put an arm around it to try to defend my record, I'm disappointed in my record, also."

Credit Karl and Fox for assuming more blame than either deserved.

Now watch as the heat turns up on their seats.

In back-to-back seasons, Denver teams roared through the regular season, only to crumble in the playoffs. The Broncos wrote the blueprint; the Nuggets borrowed a copy.

For the two coaches, the criticisms after these upsets are child's play compared to what they will face if their teams collapse in the playoffs again.

The pressure's on.

Long winning streaks and flowery records won't be enough. Only the playoffs matter.

Whenever Fox and the Broncos win on Sundays, it will come with a disclaimer on Monday.

Whenever Karl and the Nuggets race to another NBA win, it will come with the same:

Great, but prove it in the playoffs.

This is cynicism at a mile high.

It is an odd, cruel sports world that takes coaches who earned No.?1 seeds or set franchise records and places them under a microscope.

With the Broncos and Nuggets, this is where we are.

Fox ordered Peyton Manning to take a knee and will only hear the end of it if he coaches the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 2014.

Karl and the Nuggets lost their playoff series in Game 1, when the Nuggets built a nine-point lead but allowed the Warriors to stick around and believe they could win. He will only hear the end of it with a deep run in the NBA playoffs in 2014.

"It's like the lawn mower just stopped and ran out of gas or something," Karl said. "There's an emptiness in my body. I'm sure there's an emptiness for the guys in that locker room."

"I think we made a big step this year," he added. "But it wasn't validated by a playoff win."

Fox and Karl have coaching resumes that hardly need validation.

By virtue of their own success during the regular season, they created expectations their playoff performances didn't meet.

Karl raised expectations by winning 57 games before losing four to the Warriors. Fox did by winning 11 straight before failing against the Ravens.

One collapse in the playoffs outweighed all of the wins.

"It's above successful," Karl said, when asked if this Nuggets season was a success or a failure. "But no one wants to write that."

Karl listed three playoff defeats that cut deepest: The series loss to the Clippers in 2006 ("When we were in complete disarray"), to the Jazz in 2010 ("When I was sick") and to the Warriors this year ("That I'm going to have a harder time with").

To cope with this loss in the playoffs, Karl said he would enjoy family time, read a book and take the dogs for a walk. Animals are therapeutic, I agree.

Losing to a lesser team in the playoffs was an excruciating result for Karl.

Losing to a lesser team in the playoffs was an excruciating result for Fox.

Now the pressure's really on.

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