March 23, 2013
DENVER — After a deep pause, George Karl went even deeper.
"Sleep fast," he told me.
Is Karl going Zen on us?
I had asked the coach to explain his philosophy in guiding these Nuggets, who are breaking the mold of what an NBA title contender is supposed to look like.
Karl used words like speed and attack. And fast, often.
“We believe in fast,” Karl said. "We teach that."
Run fast, score fast, play fast. Sleep fast, he joked.
Win 15 straight games, fast.
Basketball at the college level is slowing down to a snail’s pace. High school needs a shot clock to speed up the pace. These Nuggets would earn a speeding ticket on Interstate 25.
Fast, name the best team in the Western Conference over the past three months.
It is clearly and inarguably the Nuggets, faster than a fast break, who are 39-10 since Dec. 14. In all of the NBA, only the Heat has been better (36-9).
It happened so fast I’m not sure the basketball world has caught up to the strength, speed, depth and potential of these Nuggets. I’m not sure people truly know how good they are.
On a recent day inside their Pepsi Center practice gym, Karl told me about fast.
Try to keep up.
“Nothing we think about is ever to slow down. Everything we think about is how to speed the game up. Every coaching thought (is about speed),” Karl said. "We hate being conservative. We would prefer to do anything to create more tempo, more attacks, more spacing. Every day we think about it — how to tinker with this guy to get this guy out in space quicker."
Refreshing, isn't it?
What basketball is teaching now is a crime against the sport.
Karl is a seer, knowing before most that his roster was fast becoming a Western Conference contender. He is a survivor, of cancer, and a salesman, of basketball regression.
There never has been a better coach of the Nuggets, and there could be no better coach for these Nuggets, than Karl.
There has been no better coach in the NBA this season than Karl. On March 24, the bulk of the season over, Karl should be the Coach of the Year.
Not so fast?
The Nuggets are 21-7 against the (other) top eight teams in the Western Conference. They never have won this many consecutive games in the NBA. All without a player named to the All-Star game.
The Nuggets rank first in fast-break points and first in points in the paint, a product of a wicked fast break fueled by dual point guards.
“I don’t know know that you can play this system without a guy that wants to push it. Andre Miller and Ty (Lawson) are, I think, the perfect complement,” Karl said.
“You have to cover a great passer with a speed demon. And they both are unselfish players. I don’t think our players get a lot of credit for that. I think our players are very unselfish and very committed to pass the ball. To play fast, they know if they play it the right way to get enough touches to keep everybody happy.”
Karl hasn't received the credit he deserves. Convincing NBA egos their best chance at success is to share is no easy pitch. Denver’s speed and unselfishness are more than a fad, a trend destined to fade when their playoff pace slows to a half-court crawl.
Get 'em fast, because the NBA is finally catching up to the reality of these Nuggets.