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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." --I.T.
"The Nuggets figure to be the Number 2 seed if they win their division, but I doubt they'll go far in the playoffs unless they improve their shooting and half-court offense.... Carmelo Anthony should be happy to play for a coach who can force the best out of him. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have proved they're the real deal, but Anthony has been up and down trying to figure out the meaning of a good shot. His teammates all have a good idea of their roles in the team concept, but opponents have been able to load up on Anthony because he hasn't been good at moving the ball. The ball stops when it gets to him, which means he winds up trying to make the hard play instead of the easy pass.... Earl Watson is prone to taking bad shots and looking for his own points, but I like him as a complete guard with a decent assist-turnover ratio, and he can rebound and hit the three-pointer when his feet are set.... When healthy, Kenyon Martin can hold his own against most of the bigger power forwards in the West, apart from Tim Duncan. He looked like he tried to come back from his injury too soon last year.... Marcus Camby is a phenomenal shot blocker with a very high defensive IQ, a big-time help defender who makes very few mistakes on the ball or coming over from off the ball."
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 49-33 (7th in West)