LOS ANGELES -- George Karl tells his team more stories than a father at bedtime, and in the past 10 days, he dug through his mental archive for fresh material. He regaled the Nuggets with memories of the mid-90s Sonics, falling behind the Rockets 3-1 only to force a Game 7, and the Bulls 3-0 only to force a Game 6. He reminisced about the 1996 Western Conference Finals, which essentially came down to four free throws: Shawn Kemp made two for Seattle, Karl Malone missed two for Utah, and the Sonics advanced to the NBA Finals. "You want to celebrate dominance and it's not about dominance," Karl said. "The edge is very, very thin."
LOS ANGELES -- From 2004 to 2011, Kenyon Martin played the role of enforcer behind Carmelo Anthony on the Denver Nuggets. They might not be teammates anymore, but the Martin is still coming to his longtime friend's defense.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- It wasn't one of those nights George Karl was talking about, when at least 30 percent of the game is made up of mistakes and the potential for finger pointing is ripe from selfish players.
Carmelo Anthony is still in Denver and the 29-20 Nuggets remain a dangerous playoff team, which demonstrates the change in coach George Karl. In younger decades he might have reacted angrily to the season-long 'Melo-drama (as Karl refers to it) of whether or not his star will be dealt.
The Nuggets put aside their worries of playing without George Karl for at least one night to take Game 1 from Jazz, 126-113. In addition to little defense and a lot of sharp-shooting (the teams combined to shoot 56 percent), the first-round matchup ended with another Jazz player on the injured list and Denver's Carmelo Anthony showing his best and worst sides. Consider the following:
At a time when most NBA owners are fretting about fiscal responsibility and positioning themselves for what could be an ugly and painful labor dispute in 16 months, Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke should be commended for allowing his human side to show recently.
DENVER -- The last time George Karl coached the All-Star Game, in New York in 1998, his West team was led by a 19-year-old Kobe Bryant. Karl remembers the Lakers' guard, who, at the time was the youngest player in All-Star history, waving off Utah's Karl Malone during a pick-and-roll so Bryant could take somebody one-on-one.
The nameplate above Ty Lawson's locker simply reads "Rookie." It's a nickname Lawson has gotten used to during his first season -- hearing it on a daily basis from Nuggets coach George Karl -- even if his play on the court at times has belied that of a first-year player.
5. Drazen Petrovic was a self-made star. Sunday will mark the 16th anniversary of the death of Petrovic, a 28-year-old Croatian coming off an All-NBA season when he was killed in a car accident in Germany.
DENVER -- There will be no Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals because Kobe Bryant decided he'd had enough. Enough of Nuggets defenders poking him in the midsection as he elevated from the perimeter and slapping his forehead as he released his shots. Enough of Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza and Chauncey Billups bumping him like he was a running back hitting the hole and not a shooting guard looking for a seam. Enough of a city and a town that brings back too many bad memories. Enough of all of it. It was time to go home.
DENVER -- Coaches are fond of reminding us that basketball is a team sport, that no single player can carry a team to a championship. And they're right. Shaquille O'Neal couldn't have won without Kobe Bryant (and vice versa), Tim Duncan would have been lost without Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, and Paul Pierce didn't win anything until he was teamed with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
DENVER -- The DVDs on top of Nuggets coach George Karl's growing pile of game films aren't what you'd expect. Yes, somewhere among the hours of footage is video of the Lakers' first-round series with Utah, and he has spent plenty of time dissecting the disc of L.A.'s difficult seven-game series with Houston in the Western Conference semifinals.
DENVER -- The story on Sunday morning will undoubtedly be that the Lakers regained control of the Western Conference finals with a gritty 103-97 victory in Game 3 (RECAP | BOX). And it should be. Writers and talking heads alike will heap praise on Kobe Bryant, who despite getting battered like an over-the-hill prize fighter, overwhelmed the Nuggets with a 41-point, six-rebound, five-assist effort.
... and rejuvenated George Karl, who has become a Coach of the Year candidate for steering his team away from its widely forecast place in the lottery and into contention for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Perfection remains elusive for Nenê this season. Each night, every game, there's a ball that rims out on him, a running hook shot that falls short or a bunny that somehow still misses. Against Houston on Sunday, Yao Ming blocked three of his layups -- swat in the second quarter, swat-swat in rapid succession in the fourth -- and it stuck with him, almost as much as the standstill to which he and Yao played in the Nuggets' 104-94 victory.
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Given our nation's current economic plight, the NBA -- which likes to set trends and provide stellar examples -- ought to consider a departure from business as usual this season. As in, cool it with the pink slips.
DENVER -- George Karl bounded into the Pepsi Center 2½ hours before Wednesday night's opener against the Seattle SuperSonics. Two years removed from prostate cancer surgery, Karl looked like a happy and healthy man.
Carmelo Anthony never rebounds, Allen Iverson never passes, Kenyon Martin never plays, J.R. Smith won't be seen until October, the team makes too much money and coach George Karl is too volatile to be trusted with a pro club.
It's almost time for some bracketology, NBA-style, and the great thing is, the board is a mystery. You can use ink to put Dallas on that top line in the West and a pretty heavy pencil to do the same with Detroit in the East. And if Phoenix beats San Antonio in Thursday night's eagerly awaited TNT game, the Suns are all but a lock for second. But everything else will have to wait.