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Nuggets miss coach Karl as he battles cancer

Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl before a

Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl before a game against the Boston Celtics. (February 21, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

Everyone inside the Nuggets' locker room before last night's game at Madison Square Garden was going through the motions, trying to do what they were supposed to do.

The trainer was setting up his table. The players were getting dressed quietly and watching a tape.

But the news was what wasn't happening. There was no larger-than-life presence, no moon-faced coach throwing zingers at his players. There was no booming voice outside the locker room, and no hearty laughter from writers gathered around him.

There was no laughter, period. There was no George Karl.

The Nuggets again were playing without their coach, who is back in Denver being treated for throat and neck cancer. And it was clear that this is a team shaken by Karl's absence.

"It's been a really tough couple of weeks without him,'' Kenyon Martin said.

Added Johan Petro: "You try not to think about it, but it's there every day. It's something that is just too big. It's there all the time.''

Karl, 58, announced Feb. 16 that he had been diagnosed with a "very treatable and curable'' form of cancer. He is near the end of a 45-day regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.

The 109-104 loss to the Knicks began a five-game trip that Karl is expected to miss. The Nuggets, with the second-best record (47-24) in the Western Conference, are 5-3 without him.

The team hasn't seen Karl since Thursday, although acting coach Adrian Dantley speaks frequently with him. Dantley said the team isn't doing anything different under him. "I don't address them like George,'' he said. "If I tried to be like George, they would all laugh at me.''

He might want to try. This is a team that could use a bit of laughter.

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