This is Adrian Dantley’s team now.
Denver coach George Karl, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for a form of throat cancer, missed his sixth game out of the last seven in Saturday night’s 102-97 loss to Milwaukee at the Pepsi Center. But there was one major difference this time.
Dantley didn’t even talk with Karl on Saturday. And a Nuggets official said the ailing Karl is not expected to be with the team for any games during a pivotal upcoming five-game trip, meaning Karl will have missed 11 of 12 at a time the Nuggets are trying to hold off Dallas for the No. 2 seed in the West and Utah for the Northwest Division crown.
"He’s going through treatment and was down so I didn’t talk to him,” Dantley, an assistant and the acting head coach said of Saturday, when the Nuggets lost just their sixth home game of the season to a team that had played a double-overtime game the night before at Sacramento while Denver rested.
But the Bucks are a playoff outfit. Yes, Dantley is 5-2 filling in for Karl during his absences over the past month, but Milwaukee is the first likely playoff-bound team he has faced.
Now, it’s just going to get tougher for Dantley. The Nuggets (47-23) start their five-game trip Tuesday at New York, but then it really gets rigorous. The last four games are at Boston, Toronto, Orlando and Dallas, three playoff bound and the Raptors likely getting there.
The game with the Mavericks (46-23) figures to be pivotal to which team gets the No. 2 seed in the West and possible homecourt advantage in the second round of the playoffs. The winner takes the season series 2-1, getting the tiebreaker.
Furthermore, the Nuggets, who have the league’s toughest remaining schedule, are still trying to hold off the Jazz (45-25) in the Northwest. And there’s no guarantee either Oklahoma City (42-25) and Phoenix (43-26) can’t knock the Nuggets out of one of the top four seeds if they falter down the stretch.
Who knows if Karl can help Dantley, who calls the trip a "big challenge,” with any phone calls during it? After beginning a 6 1/2-week treatment program in mid-February, the last few weeks have always been expected to be the toughest.
Karl was on the bench last Tuesday against Washington, but his mouth was so sore he could barely talk. To understand how tough these days are for him, Karl elected not to meet the media in the past week, something the talkative Karl often has enjoyed doing and something that at times has been therapeutic.