Published November 20, 2014
George Karl gave his players a break from the basketball court and the tongue-lashings.
Still miffed about how the Nuggets got outworked at Oklahoma City, Denver's coach chose not to hold practice or even watch film on Thursday, instead meeting with his team to talk things over.
The message might have been to keep their heads up, but guard J.R. Smith was downtrodden after playing just six minutes in the Nuggets' 106-89 loss Wednesday night that put them in an 0-2 hole in the best-of-7 series that shifts to Denver for Game 3 on Saturday night.
Smith suggested Thursday he's there was a "strong possibility" he'd sign elsewhere next summer as a free agent.
"It's not going the way I planned," Smith said. "It's a tough situation. You want to be here I've been here for five years. I love the fans, I love everything about the city. It's just maybe not my fit."
The Thunder outscored the Nuggets by 17 points when Smith was on the court, so he took a seat for entire second half, along with center Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
Smith, who scored just two points on 1 for 6 shooting and missed his only three-point attempt in Game 2, complained that if he doesn't hit his shots right away, he always gets a quick hook from Karl.
"He was minus-17 in six minutes. Those guys shouldn't get second chances," retorted Karl, who had suggested before the playoffs that he would have a short fuse for mistakes.
Smith hadn't played so sparingly since Nov. 17, when he made only a cameo appearance against the New York Knicks after being late for shootaround that morning.
"I mean, he was on the court when we went from about an eight- or nine-point game to a 26-point (deficit)," Karl said. "So, I'm not saying it was all his fault. I'm just saying when that happens, I've got to change."
Asked how deep in his doghouse Smith was, Karl said: "I don't know how to answer that question. I hope he's ready to play on Saturday, and hopefully there will be a situation where he can kind of bounce back and have a good game."
The Nuggets are going to need bounce-back performances from both Smith and Andersen in this series.
"I will probably communicate with them tomorrow," Karl said. "Today I'm mad, I'm angry, probably not the best mode for me to go after you. ... It's like a marriage, sometimes you need some space."
And sometimes marriages don't work out.
When he left the team's meeting Thursday, Smith said the Nuggets lacked a pulse.
"It was just frustration. Just really didn't have any life in there today. Nobody was really into it, from what it seemed. Just out of it," he said.
"I'm not worried," Smith added. "I still think we're in a great position to make some things happen. We've got a lot of weapons. Just got to put them to use."
Smith said he's ready to play if his number is called, and "if they don't ask me to play, I'll cheer for my team."
That's just what guard Arron Afflalo has been doing while sitting out with a strained left hamstring that cost him 13 games over the final month of the regular season and kept him out of the playoffs so far.
Afflalo, who tried coming back from the injury too early three different times only to suffer setbacks, will return for Game 3 if he gets through Friday's practice OK.
"I feel healthy," Afflalo said. "I feel ready to go."
"It's frustrating the way that we lost. That was kind of embarrassing," he said. "But they executed, they played well. They're playing with a lot of confidence. In my mind, that's all a mental approach. That's nothing physical. That can be changed in a snap of a finger."
Karl is counting on it.
"I told them my only disappointment is I thought we got outworked. And that's hard to swallow," Karl said. "The first 15 minutes of that game, it wasn't X's and O's, it was about hustle points and outrunning and outrebounding, hitting and screening. I mean, we didn't do anything at an intensity level that was respectful of the competition level and the game. From that point forward, I think it was OK."
Afflalo could be the Nuggets' wild-card in this series.
"He's one of our most tough-minded, fundamentally sound, hard-nosed, winning guys on our team," Karl said. "Before he got hurt, he was playing the most minutes on the team. He played more minutes than (Carmelo Anthony), he played more minutes than Chauncey (Billups). He's a competitive, winning kid. Skill-wise, he doesn't have greatness but he has 'damn good' in a lot of areas."
The Thunder are two wins away from winning its first playoff series since the team moved from Seattle in 2008.
"It's far from over," Thunder center Nazr Mohammed said. "If they win two games on their home floor, we've got a series."
Which is exactly what Karl is predicting.
"It's going to be a great Easter weekend," Karl said. "We're going to win two games, and it's going to be a best-of-3 series, which really makes it exciting."
AP Sports Writer Jeff Latzke contributed from Oklahoma City.