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Nuggets show mental, physical toughness in beating OKC

Next test for Denver will be road game against slumping Houston Rockets

Nuggets coach George Karl and assistants Chad Iske (left) and Melvin Hunt stand on the sideline during an intense moment against Oklahoma City.
Doug Pensinger/NBAE/Getty Images

Both exhilarated and exhausted, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl exited Pepsi Center and headed home after another milestone victory.

On his way, he stopped for a sandwich and then flipped on Altitude's television replay of Sunday's overtime victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“It was such a good win,” Karl said Monday. “I watched the first half.”

The 61-year-old coach headed to bed before the real excitement began. Then again, he didn't need to see a television replay to confirm what he already knew: the Nuggets showed mental and physical toughness while persevering against an Oklahoma City team that boasts the best record in the NBA (32-9).

“We had to be tougher,” Nuggets point guard. Ty Lawson said. “Most of the games we lost this year, we probably got punked. We’d get hit and complain to the refs instead of hitting back. That’s one of the main things coach tried to stress to us.”

Eleven days after committing the fewest fouls (7) in franchise history, Denver (25-18) was whistled for a season-high 33 against the Thunder. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the Nuggets crowded the ball on defense and tried to prevent layups at all costs when Oklahoma City got into the paint.

“Against the top three or four teams in the NBA, if you’re not physical, you don’t have a chance,” Karl said. “We cannot ever allow ourselves to be dominated.”

Few NBA coaches are tougher or more accomplished than Karl, a two-time cancer survivor who now ranks 6th in career victories. He moved past Larry Brown on Sunday and will take aim at his 1,100th win when the Nuggets play the Houston Rockets on the road Wednesday.

“It’s staggering,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who was an assistant under Karl for two seasons in Denver. “It’s hard to win one game. He’s an amazing coach. He’s going to do it for many more years. He’s going to coach until he falls – and he’s not going to fall for a long time.”

After being pushed pretty hard by Karl leading into the Oklahoma City game, the Nuggets had a voluntary workout Monday at Pepsi Center.

As a handful of players lifted weights and put up some shots on the practice court, Karl and his staff were busy preparing for Houston. The Rockets (22-21) have lost seven of their past eight games, but Denver is taking nothing for granted after home losses this month to the Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I think we can play like one of the top teams,” Lawson said. “We just have to be more consistent every night. (The Oklahoma City game) was huge for us. We have to keep it moving.”