CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Everything pointed to a storybook night for George Karl. Sitting at 999 NBA wins, he was back in North Carolina where he played in college and coaching against buddy Larry Brown.
Karl even joked before the game of missing the postgame flight to Boston and drinking wine with Brown to celebrate becoming just the seventh coach to win 1,000 games.
Instead, Karl was slumped in a chair at the end of the night dressed in a Tar Heel sweatshirt debating a late-game decision and lamenting the end of the Denver Nuggets’ seven-game winning streak.
Stephen Jackson scored 23 points, Gerald Wallace added 20 and the Charlotte Bobcats rode their big guns in building a comfortable lead before sweating out a 100-98 victory Tuesday night.
“We only come here one time a year and of course going against Larry is always a challenge,” Karl said of Brown, a 1,000-win club member. “It would have been something I’d have remembered if I won my 1,000th here. But hopefully we’ll get it on this trip.”
The Nuggets nearly rallied from eight points down with 90 seconds left. After Jackson failed to hit the rim on a 3-point attempt, the Nuggets had a chance to tie. Chauncey Billups dribbled the ball into the right corner, but his fadeaway that would have tied it bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Karl said he was “kicking himself” over not calling a timeout after Billups grabbed Jackson’s miss.
“It was a tough number. We rebounded at 7 (seconds) or something like that,” Karl said. “The initial bust out I thought was good. At the end, we didn’t have enough guys flooding the rebound, flooding the lane and trying to make something happen. I’m sure I’ll look on film and I’ll probably think I’ll want to call timeout.”
Billups scored 25 points and Carmelo Anthony added 22 points and seven rebounds for the Nuggets, who nearly overcame a miserable start and 43 percent shooting to force overtime.
“I had (D.J.) Augustin on me, who I knew couldn’t really affect my shot,” Billups said. “I got a good look, just didn’t knock it down.”
Jackson scored nine points in the fourth quarter, including consecutive 3-pointers to put Charlotte ahead 95-88 with 3:23 left. Boris Diaw’s bucket with 1:35 left made it 99-91.
The Bobcats then did just enough to pick up their third win in eight games.
Augustin added 18 points and Tyrus Thomas scored 16 for Charlotte before leaving left late in the fourth quarter with a tight left quadriceps in a game with plenty of twists. Jackson also had nine rebounds and seven assists, and Wallace added nine boards.
“We have to start winning games now, so we don’t have to use so much energy at the end of the season to be in the position we want to be in,” Jackson said.
Charlotte’s increased intensity left the 59-year-old Karl, who missed the final two months of last season while fighting cancer, looking for answers at the start of a four-game road trip.
“I think defensively our urgency was not where it should be to win when you’re playing on the road,” Karl said.
Back in North Carolina where he helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1972 Final Four, Karl understood the significance of going for 1,000 wins here while coaching against Brown.
But Karl, in his 23rd season, had a quick replay before the game when asked if it was the “perfect storm” to reach the milestone,
“Or the perfect storm to get your (butt) kicked,” Karl said. “One or the other.”
That was the case early, as the sluggish Nuggets missed 18 of their first 23 shots and fell behind 27-16 early in the second quarter. Wallace, off to a slow start this season coming off his first All-Star appearance, scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half as Charlotte took a 52-47 halftime lead.
Anthony, who missed five of his first six shots from the field, scored 10 points in the third quarter as Denver went on a 16-7 run to tie it at 76 entering the fourth.
Despite a near meltdown late, Brown beat his friend for his 1,326th win in the NBA and ABA, leaving him 10 shy of breaking Don Nelson’s record.
Karl’s next chance comes Wednesday in Boston.
“He’ll win another 1,000,” Brown said of Karl. “I’m proud to be in the same league with him. All his teams play the right way. I’m proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s done a marvelous job and has overcome a lot.”
NOTES: Brown reminisced before the game about first meeting Karl when he played pickup games in Chapel Hill when he was a player in the ABA and Karl was a college player. “He was cocky as hell,” Brown said, smiling, “and he hasn’t changed.” … Brown said Bobcats G Gerald Henderson (knee) is doing more work but still hasn’t been cleared for contact drills. … Bobcats C Kwame Brown, Thomas and Billups all got technical fouls for complaining.
– By Mike Cranston, AP Sports Writer
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