By Jeff McDonald
Denver coach George Karl retreated to the visitor’s locker room at the ATT Center on Friday, not long after his Nuggets had finished off a 97-91 preseason victory over the Spurs.
After addressing his team, pow-wowing with his friend, former Nuggets and Spurs coach Doug Moe, and consulting a box score, Karl made a mental note to later double-check his team’s regular-season schedule.
He doesn’t want to face this Tim Duncan anytime soon.
“I don’t know when we play them in-season,” Karl said, after Duncan went for 21 points and eight rebounds in a little more than 25 minutes. “I’m hoping it’s the end of the season. Maybe the wear and tear will have caught up with him.”
Karl will be dismayed to learn he’ll be right back in the ATT Center in less than a month, facing a Duncan as fresh as can be in the regular season.
In handing the Spurs their first loss of the preseason, the Nuggets showed flashes of why many observers consider them a team to watch in the Western Conference.
Devoid of an alpha dog star but deploying one of the deepest rosters in the league, the Nuggets used 24 points from Corey Brewer — 18 in the first half — and 19 from Danilo Gallinari to outrun the Spurs to the finish line.
Denver turned 22 Spurs turnovers into 28 points, and scored 31 points in transition. During an 18-5 spurt to start the second half that pried the game open, the Nuggets notched eight points on dunks — three from JaVale McGee and one from Andre Iguodala.
“We wanted to work on getting back (on defense) because we knew this was a fast-paced team,” said Spurs forward Stephen Jackson, who added 13 points. “We didn’t do as well as we wanted to, but we got something out of the game as far as understanding how far we have to go.”
At the center of it all, new contract in hand, was Duncan.
A veteran of 15 NBA preseasons, Duncan remains in the early stages of gearing up for games that count. At 36 years old, he has learned how to pace himself through October and how to conserve energy for the regular season.
That all went out the window early Friday.
Duncan hit his first five shots, including a basket-and-a-foul against Denver’s Kenneth Faried. Six minutes in, Duncan had 11 points, and the Spurs had a 15-2 lead. He would finish 8 of 11 from the field before taking a seat for the fourth quarter.
“That’s what Timmy does,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “We’re going to need that from him this year.”
At this stage of his career, Duncan isn’t a lock for these kind of games every night. If nothing else, coach Gregg Popovich’s meticulous handling of Duncan’s minutes often serves to depress his nightly box score.
What Karl noticed Friday was the way Duncan scored: His first three field goals were jump shots.
“It looks like his jumper’s got to the point where it’s a little scary right now,” Karl said. “You’re going to have to cover him out there. Making that jumper gives him that cleverness, that quickness that he now can get by you a little bit.”
This is why Karl would prefer to face Duncan in February, when the season has worn him down, and his legs are weary and his jump shot is flat.
Instead, the Nuggets return to the ATT Center on Nov. 17.