DENVER (AP) George Karl hopes speedy point guard Ty Lawson heals as fast as he plays.
In the meantime, the Denver Nuggets coach is in no hurry to slow things down even with Lawson sidelined indefinitely with a plantar fascia tear in his right foot.
Karl believes his team can still maintain their high-octane, fast-paced offense until the return of Lawson.
Veteran Andre Miller will start in Lawson’s place when they play Wednesday night in Utah and rookie Evan Fournier will be called upon to spell the 37-year-old Miller.
Neither player can match Lawson, but there are other ways to keep up the quickness down the court.
“It’s going to be more of a team commitment, to keep the pace at a high level,” Karl said after practice Monday. “It will be interesting … to see if we slow down. I personally don’t think we will.”
The Nuggets have a precarious grasp on the third seed in the Western Conference standings with just eight games remaining.
They’re hoping to hold on to one of the top seeds in order to host a first-round playoff game at Pepsi Center, where the squad is an NBA-best 33-3 this season.
And obviously, Lawson’s presence on the floor would help.
But Karl isn’t about to do anything rash to rush back his point guard, knowing how important Lawson will be in the postseason.
“Ty’s job and our job is to figure out how to get him feeling 100 percent,” Karl said. “I’m optimistic it will work its way out.”
Lawson’s injury was first diagnosed as a strained heel, which forced him to miss three straight games before returning to the court at San Antonio last week. But he only played limited minutes.
A day later, an exam also revealed a painful plantar fascia tear.
And now, the Nuggets are taking a cautious approach with the treatment of Lawson, the team’s leader in scoring (16.7) and assists (6.9).
“You rest it and rest it,” Karl explained. “Once the soreness goes away and once it stretches out and the body figures out how to work it, he probably could be pain free. It could come in a couple of weeks.”
Until then, the Nuggets will rely on Miller to push the pace for a team that leads the league in fast-break points.
“It’s a special gift for me as a coach, to have the luxury of two top-notch point guards helping you figure out how to win a game,” Karl said. “But they’re different. Ty is speed, an ability to push the ball. Andre has cleverness and cuteness.
“But Andre likes to play the way we play.”
So does Fournier, especially when given an opportunity.
Fournier played more than 20 minutes in a win over Brooklyn last Friday and finished with 19 points. It’s time on the court that might have otherwise gone to Julyan Stone, but he’s out with a sprained MCL in his right knee.
“You always want to help the team,” said Fournier, the 20th overall pick by the Nuggets last summer after twice earning the French League’s Rising Star award. “Now I have to keep my confidence and keep rolling.”
Not that Karl expects that kind of production out of Fournier every night. No, Karl will settle for strong defense and solid decisions.
Karl’s plan is to pair Fournier with players such as Andre Iguodala, just to surround him with some experience.
“I think part of my job a little bit is try to put a team that kind of accentuates Evan’s talents to play well,” Karl said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be two games or six games, or seven games, how much he’s going to play before Ty gets back into the rotation. The one thing I love about (Fournier) is he’s a confident guy.
“I think he was genuinely annoyed by everybody being surprised that he played well (against Brooklyn).”
Indeed, he was.
“I still can do a lot better,” Fournier said. “But that’s the kind of game where I have to play like that every night. I can’t play bad. I have to keep the same level.”
The Nuggets are coming off quite a March, one that saw them go 13-2 and match the best month in team history (March 1982). For that, Karl was the Western Conference coach of the month.
“What do I get for that?” Karl smirked.
How about another challenge down the homestretch, with his speedy leader day-to-day?
“I think we have a very good basketball team,” said Karl, whose team has won 18 straight at home. “It’s fun pushing the buttons and fun leading them.
“When you get on one of those special waves, it’s pretty cool. Hopefully, I can help them sustain it. It’s all about them.”
Notes: Nuggets assistant coach Patrick Mutombo had reason to puff out his chest at practice after his alma mater Metro State advanced to the NCAA Division II final against Drury next weekend. The Roadrunners will be seeking their first national championship since winning titles in 2000 and 2002, when Mutombo was a standout player for Metro State, which is located just across the street from Pepsi Center. “This brings back a lot of good memories,” Mutombo said.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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