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Denver Nuggets

2. Denver Nuggets

Western Conference Northwest
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Earl Boykins
Earl Boykins
Greg Nelson/SI
Telling Number
In his 25 games before George Karl became coach last season, Carmelo Anthony shot 39% from the field; in his 40 games under Karl, he made 47.3%.
Fast Facts
Record: 49-33 (7th in West)
Points scored: 99.5 (8th in NBA)
Points allowed: 97.5 (17th)
Coach: George Karl (second season with the Nuggets)

The key to George Karl's up-tempo offense is no small wonder

Following the signing of free-agent guard Earl Watson in the off-season, there was speculation that 5'5" sixth man Earl Boykins would have a smaller role with the Nuggets this year. To the contrary, coach George Karl has big plans for the diminutive point guard, who last season had career highs in points, assists and minutes per game. "Earl is one of the few players in the league who can go anywhere he wants to," says Karl. "He's hard to defend, he's tremendously courageous and he's a big-game and big-shot player." Sounds indispensable to a team that is well-positioned to win its first division title in 17 years, doesn't he?

Upon taking over a Denver team that was 17-25 when he was hired last January, Karl leaned heavily on Boykins to push the tempo and step up the pressure defense. The result was a 32-8 tear to finish the season. "George doesn't so much care about size and matchups," says Boykins. "He's going to play the five best people he thinks are going to help his team."

Boykins often played in the fourth quarter alongside 6'2" starting point guard Andre Miller, who would move to the two guard. But with the arrival of the 6'1" Watson, a playmaker who can shoot the three, who will lose minutes? "I don't know how [Watson's] going to play into it," says Karl, "but I have no problem playing small and fast."

For his part, the fearless Boykins promises to keep the attack running at top speed. "Early in my career I always felt I had to be perfect, and I was so worried about making mistakes that I didn't really play my game," says Boykins. "In years past I made mistakes because I couldn't be aggressive, but now if make them, I don't worry about coming out of the game." -- Ian Thomsen

Issue date: October 24, 2005

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