Nuggets ready to take aim at another 50-win season

Coach George Karl sees Denver as one of several West teams who could reach mark
by Aaron Lopez

Prior to the abbreviated 66-game NBA schedule in 2011-12, the Denver Nuggets put together a string of four consecutive 50-win seasons.

Coach George Karl would love to make it five out of six.

“Fifty is a difficult challenge,” Karl said after practice Wednesday. “I’d take 50 right now. That’s not a guarantee we get fourth (in the Western Conference), but I’d take 50.”

Karl singled out the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City and San Antonio as the teams he expects to win at least 50 games in 2012-13. He considers Denver to be in a group with Dallas, Memphis and the Clippers in pursuit of 50 as well.

Asked if the Nuggets could threaten the franchise record of 54 wins (1987-88 and 2008-09), Karl said, “It’s not crazy to reach if we get off to a good start.”

With 17 of the first 23 games on the road, Denver will have to be focused from the time the season opens Halloween night in Philadelphia.

While the players are probably ready for the games to count, Karl and his coaching staff are using the final two preseason games to evaluate playing rotations and fine-tune things offensively and defensively.

The Nuggets likely will treat Thursday's exhibition game against the Clippers as a regular-season game. It should be a good test against a a veteran-laden roster expected to compete for one of the top-four seeds in the Western Conference.

The Clippers have Grant Hill (17 NBA seasons), Chauncey Billups (15), Lamar Odom (13), Jamal Crawford (12), Caron Butler (10), Matt Barnes (9), Willie Green (9) and Chris Paul (7), along with young big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

“They have the most veteran talent that I’ve seen maybe ever,” Karl said. “They’re a veteran deep team, whereas we’re a young, deep team.”

Billups, 36, will not play Thursday as he continues his recovery from a torn Achilles' tendon. The Denver native, who was a key member of the Denver team that advanced to the 2009 West finals, has been cleared to practice, but he is not expected back until sometime in November.

Considering the severity of the injury, Billups' comeback is impressive.

“The guy has a great heart, so I never questioned that,” Karl said. “Chauncey’s a pretty special dude.”

Veteran NBA point guard Anthony Carter attends the same church as Billups. He was confident that his former Nuggets teammate would return to the court after seeing him at a Sunday service.

“He said, ‘Ace, you know I’m going to be back,’ ” Carter recalled. “I would’ve been the same way. We want to go out when we’re ready and not let anything push us out. I’m glad he’s making a comeback. He can say he didn’t go out on the down side.”

After Thursday's game, the Nuggets conclude their preseason schedule Friday in Phoenix.

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