No place like home? Nuggets struggle at Pepsi Center

DENVER (AP) - Nuggets coach George Karl chewed his gum with more vigor - even popping it from time to time - as he thought about his team's struggles at home this season.

Denver is 19-18 at the Pepsi Center, the seventh-worst home start through 37 dates in team history.

Karl is at a loss to explain why.

"I've flunked the test. I can't figure that one out," Karl said on a snowy Thursday morning. "We have more energy on the road, more bounce on the road. We seem to have more focus.

"On the road, it's really good. I don't know what they do at home."

The Nuggets are 16-17 so far this season, which is one of the team's best marks in franchise history through that many games. Denver has never posted a winning road record. Its best all-time mark is 19-22 in 1987-88.

Denver can temporarily forget about its woes at home. The team will head out on a three-game road swing that begins Friday night in Phoenix, a team they demolished 131-107 at home two weeks ago.

Denver also plays eight of its remaining 12 games on the road. Karl grinned when asked if it was a blessing his team was playing so many away from home to end the regular season.

"I'm not smart enough to figure that out," he said.

The Nuggets are currently clinging to the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race even though they've lost four of their last five games. They're just ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, who are in the eighth and final spot but have won four of its last five.

"That's incredible compared to what could've happened," Karl said of the team's current playoff position despite the recent slide. "We wanted to be a competitive playoff team that can win a playoff series. I still have a feeling we'll have a good chance at achieving that goal."

Denver had two more potential road wins snatched away in dramatic fashion last week. Chicago's Tyrus Thomas tipped in a shot with less than a second left for a 109-108 win on March 22. Then, on Monday night, Detroit's Rasheed Wallace stunned the Nuggets as he nailed a 62-foot heave at the buzzer to force overtime, which resulted in the Pistons' 113-109 victory.

Those setbacks, though, didn't bother Karl nearly as much as a 100-97 home loss to Seattle on Wednesday night. The Sonics entered the game having played the night before in Minnesota.

"I was disappointed more last night in ... not valuing a homecourt game," Karl said.

Carmelo Anthony said after the loss the team just played flat. But he couldn't explain why.

"We didn't have it," Anthony said. "We didn't have any energy."

Karl was just starting to get a good vibe about this team, too. The Sonics loss spoiled the moment.

"I thought it was there," Karl said.

The Nuggets know they need to pick up the intensity in a hurry.

"We're putting in effort every game," guard Steve Blake said. "A lot of ups and downs right now."

That's to be expected given all the drama the Nuggets have endured this season. Denver has dealt with suspensions - J.R. Smith and Anthony for their roles in a brawl - and a blockbuster trade for Allen Iverson.

They've had to learn and relearn how to work with each other. Now Karl is hopeful the team can put it all together before time runs out.

"In a strange way, we're in a good place," Karl said. "Has there been frustration and disappointment? (Heck) yeah, there's been a lot of it. I'm optimistic. Our luck and our karma can very quickly swing back to a good place and we can have fun in the playoffs."

(Copyright 2007. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)


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