K-Mart back for Nuggets, AK-47 out for Jazz
AP Sports Writer
DENVER – AK-47 is out, K-Mart is in.
Forward Andrei Kirilenko will miss Utah’s first-round playoff series against Denver after aggravating his strained left calf during a workout Thursday, making it harder for the Jazz to guard Nuggets All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
Kirilenko, who has missed 15 of his team’s last 17 games, was injured during a light workout in Salt Lake City. An MRI revealed a muscle strain in a different area from his previous two strains, so team doctors recommended two weeks of rest while they look into other treatment options.
“I can’t react. What am I going to do? Go jump and hit my head against the wall? I’m not going to do that,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “He got hurt. I felt bad for him, and he wasn’t very happy about it. He was devastated. That’s part of this business. You just try to encourage him to try to keep his spirits up.”
The Nuggets will surely search for ways to exploit his absence, but having Anthony fire up more shots isn’t the response acting coach Adrian Dantley wants.
“I think ‘Melo shoots enough shots already,” said Dantley, who went 11-8 in place of George Karl, who is recovering from treatment for throat cancer.
Told of Kirilenko’s absence in the first round, Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin just smiled.
Martin will man the middle for Denver, but how effective he’ll be remains a mystery after he missed 18 games with a balky left knee before returning to play limited minutes in the Nuggets’ final three regular season games.
With Kirilenko out, Sloan said he plans to have Carlos Boozer back in the lineup for Game 1 Saturday night at the Pepsi Center.
A strained muscle in his right side kept him out of the season finale Wednesday night, when the Jazz lost to the Phoenix Suns at home, relegating them to the road for the first two games of the playoffs as the fifth seed in the West.
Had they won that game, they would have had the third seed and the home-court advantage. Instead, they had to cross the Rocky Mountains to open in Denver, which won its second straight Northwest Division title.
“It would have been great to be home,” Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. “We can keep dwelling on it, keep talking about it. But we’re not home. So, there’s no reason to talk about it. We’re on the road.”
And there’s also no use fretting over Utah’s injury-riddled lineup, including Mehmet Okur’s left Achilles’ tendinitis.
“We want to have our team at full strength, but what can you do about injuries?” Williams said. “You can’t make a guy play if they’re hurt. They need to sit out and take care of themselves.”
That’s what Martin did in Denver.
The Nuggets were cruising along in second place in the West with designs on catching the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers back in February when Karl was diagnosed with throat cancer and Martin, in the midst of his best season in years, was slowed by patellar tendinitis in his left knee.
Instead of season-ending surgery, he opted for “blood spinning” – platelet-rich plasma injection therapy – in hopes of being back in time for the playoffs.
Although he got some games under his belt before the playoffs, nobody knows what Martin will be like now.
“I’m all right, I’m going to play, so that’s all that matters,” Martin said Friday.
Martin hasn’t been running up and down the court in practice, in part to preserve his health but also because he gets winded easily.
“Terrible. But it ain’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Martin said of his conditioning. “Got a couple of games in, especially at home. I think that was the most important thing, for me to get the altitude in my lungs a little bit. It don’t matter out here, man. You could be gone for a day and come back and it’s still going to bother you a little bit. Just got to push through it.”
Dantley said he has no idea what he’ll get out of Martin after the forward told him at halftime of a season-ending loss at Phoenix that “his knee was bothering him and he wasn’t going to play the second half.” Martin said later he was just playing it safe.
“Well, the only person that knows how Kenyon is doing is Kenyon,” Anthony said. “I can sit here all day and tell you what I think about him. A.D. can tell you what he thinks about him. You know, we don’t know how Kenyon feels on the inside. If he says he’s ready to go, he’s ready to go.”
Even as a shell of himself, Martin could impact the Nuggets’ fortunes, Chauncey Billups suggested.
“Everybody knows the presence that he has. When he’s not out there, we miss it, just his defensive capabilities and rebounding, just him knowing the game of basketball. So, I’m glad that he’s back.”
AP Sports Writers Doug Alden in Salt Lake City and Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.