While the Denver Nuggets are down 1-0 in their first-round playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, that doesn't mean head coach George Karl isn't keeping future opponents in the back of his mind. In recent interview with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN Radio New York, Karl told Smith that he'd like the opportunity to play the Lakers, but believes it will take a spark for the Lakers to make it that far:
We have won games against them [the Lakers], we think we have a formula on offense and defense that we know what we have to do to beat them, and I would love the opportunity. The only problem with that opportunity, I think we would only get them in the Finals of the Conference which means they have woken up a little bit and maybe they have re-focused and found that mental toughness.
Recall that the Lakers lost their opening round game with the New Orleans Hornets, 109-100, have been hit with injuries lately and lost five straight before a two-game winning streak to end the regular season. Earlier in the interview, Karl said the Lakers were experiencing "mental fatigue," which has led to their recent struggles.
When asked if the team was better without Carmelo Anthony, Karl couldn't answer the question directly, saying only that
[W]e are a better basketball team only because of our defense. Offensively we would’ve been a very high caliber offensive team with Melo but the combination of how we played, where we got, and maybe just being together for a long period of time, we had lost our defensive intensity. That falls on my shoulders as much as it falls on Melo’s shoulders.
Karl went on to say that he is a bit worried that the team won't have enough of a scoring punch to counteract Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 72 points in Game 1. The question stemmed from Karl's response to a question about the team not having a star: "I think it just comes down to the basic blue collar mentality that you have to defend to be successful and you have to pass the ball to the open man at the offensive end to be successful."
As for how the team will go forward in the series, Karl wants to forget about the blown non-call of Kendrick Perkins committing goaltending (VIDEO): "We used the call as a crutch. We can’t do that. We can’t use the call as a crutch."