With Martin out, Nuggets keep focus on winning
AP Sports Writer
DENVER – With Kenyon Martin’s left knee aching, Carmelo Anthony vowed to be more of a force on the boards.
With coach George Karl’s health problems, Chauncey Billups pledged to take on more leadership responsibilities – if that’s even possible.
These have turned into trying times for the Denver Nuggets, leaders of the Northwest Division.
What they’re focused on, though, isn’t their health but catching the Los Angeles Lakers atop the Western Conference.
“Collectively, we’ve got to band together and make it happen,” Billups said.
The Nuggets open a pivotal four-game road trip in Minnesota on Wednesday night without their defensive stalwart and easygoing coach.
Karl, who was diagnosed last month with neck and throat cancer, is sitting out the game in Minnesota as he recovers from another round of treatment. He hopes to be back on the sideline Friday night when the Nuggets travel to New Orleans.
When Martin might return remains up in the air.
The team recently announced that Martin will begin platelet rich plasma therapy – a treatment which uses a patient’s own blood components to stimulate healing – with hopes that he’ll return this season, maybe in the playoffs.
“That’s one of our anchors,” Billups said. “That’s bad news for us. But the good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Not that long ago, Martin was considered a malcontent. He was constantly hurt – two microfracture knee surgeries in successive years – and had a giant contract (seven years, $93 million) that made moving him next to impossible.
But he’s morphed into an integral part of the Nuggets, helping them advance to the Western Conference finals last season.
This year, Martin is in the midst of one of his finest seasons since joining the Nuggets, averaging 11.8 points and 9.6 rebounds.
He’s been playing through persistent pain and swelling in the knee the last few weeks. The condition, which the Nuggets have described as chronic patella tendinitis, has apparently worsened in recent days, leading Martin to try PRP therapy.
“That’s one guy we’re going to miss playing without, especially defensively,” Billups said. “There’s no one person that can come in and make up for everything that he does.”
More than his scoring, Martin has been counted on for his relentless defense. He’s been asked to cover some high-caliber offensive players – and with little help.
“There will be matchups where we’ll let Kenyon just play it straight up. Just say, ‘Go out there and take care of your man,'” Anthony said. “That’s what we’re going to have to live (without). We’re going to miss that. I think everybody is going to have to come together and figure something out.”
The little-used Johan Petro – along with Joey Graham and Malik Allen – will step in while Martin’s out. Petro played nearly 23 minutes in a win over Portland on Sunday, grabbing a season-high 10 rebounds and contributing six points.
“We’re not going to expect him to be Kenyon Martin,” Billups said. “But I think a lot of people are going to get a chance to see that he’s a really good basketball player. He just hasn’t gotten an opportunity.”
If the situation calls for it, Anthony said he would even slide over and play in Martin’s spot. Anything to keep this team on task of making another deep run through the postseason.
Not only will the Nuggets be without Martin on Wednesday, but rookie backup point guard Ty Lawson could miss his fifth straight game with a bruised left shoulder.
“Other guys just have to step up and play a little bit harder, play a little bit smarter,” assistant coach Adrian Dantley said.
Karl is undergoing a rigorous six-week treatment program of radiation and chemotherapy that will force him to miss games here and there. He missed the Nuggets’ win over Golden State on Feb. 25, when Dantley ran the team.
“It’s part of the process that he’s going through and he’s being strong about it,” guard Arron Afflalo said. “On our end, we have to continue to support him and make sure we play well in his absence.”