The hiring of George Karl midway through last season has guaranteed that the Denver Nuggets won’t catch anybody by surprise this time around.
The Nuggets went 22-4 over March and April in winning 50-of-87 games, reaching the first round of the NBA playoffs. Denver is listed at 12-1 odds at Caesars Palace to capture the 2005-06 title and 15-1 at the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook.
Denver won 19-of-20 home games under Karl, with 18 of the victories decided by nine points or more. If the Nuggets approach that mark this season, they should be a lock to exceed the projected win total of 50Â½ victories, up one from last week. Denver was 43-39 in the 2003-04 campaign.
If the Hilton’s opening win total seems low, perhaps it’s because the Nuggets return basically the same ballclub from last year. Marcus Camby will center for forwards Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony (21.3 ppg) with Andre Miller and the dynamic Earl Boykins at the guards.
The acquisition of Martin (15.5 pts, 7.3 reb, 1.1 blocks) last year from New Jersey gave the Nuggets a physical presence that blended well with Camby’s excellent bounce-back season.
Anthony is expected to put up career high numbers in just his third year in the league, but the igniter in Denver’s continued rise in the victory column is Boykins, the 5-foot-6 guard with nonstop energy and one of the league best three-point shooters.
Boykins will probably be used as a sixth man if Voshon Lenard returns to form from an injury that sidelined him much of last year. Nene is a capable backup for Camby, but he has been the subject of trade rumors, most notably in a package with Miller to Boston for Paul Pierce.
As for now, the team is intact and adds top draft pick Julius Hodge (NC State) and DerMarr Johnson and G Earl Watson.
The Nuggets open the season Nov. 1 at defending NBA champ San Antonio before returning home to the Pepsi Center for matchups with the Los Angeles Lakers (Nov. 2) and Portland Trailblazers (Nov. 4).
Denver finishes the opening week against the Lakers (Nov. 6) in Los Angeles before a four-game run of four games that includes a home-and-home set with Sacramento, a home game against Minnesota and a road contest against Dallas.
The Nuggets averaged close to 100 points per game last year and should again be among the top scoring teams in the league. If Denver is to take the next step and move deep into the playoffs, the defense and a 19-25 road record must improve.
NUGGETS EARLY SKED
Tues, Nov. 1 at San Antonio
Wed, Nov. 2 LA LAKERS
Fri, Nov. 4 PORTLAND
Sun, Nov. 6 at LA Lakers
Wed, Nov. 9 SACRAMENTO
Fri, Nov. 11 at Sacramento
Sun, Nov. 13 MINNESOTA
Tues, Nov. 15 at Dallas