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Nuggets again will get a jump on vacations

DENVER -- OK, boys and girls, what time is it?

Baseball season!

With the Nuggets trailing the Lakers, 3-0, and the NHL Avalanche trailing Detroit, 2-0, it’s getting late in the local winter sports season.

Or seeing as how the Rockies, last season’s National League champions (I know it sounds wrong but I looked it up), are back where they usually are in the NL West, maybe fans can go right to the NFL Broncos.

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Actually, Denver fans never leave the Broncos. If you think the Nuggets’ next-to-last stand Saturday had people here mesmerized, guess again.

Even with the Nuggets and the Avalanche playing, the big story was the NFL draft in which the Broncos selected a Boise State offensive tackle named Ryan Clady whose picture ran atop Page 1 in Sunday’s Denver Post with a deck that read:

“Broncos hope they’ve found replacement for Matt Lepsis.”

As any fifth grader here could tell you, Lepsis is the Broncos offensive tackle who just retired.

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It was this anonymity that prompted the Nuggets to do something as desperate as acquiring Allen Iverson last season, even if he didn’t fit with a team that already had a one-on-one force unto himself, Carmelo Anthony.

On the other hand, Iverson came cheap (Andre Miller, Joe Smith and draft picks) and the Nuggets weren’t going anywhere, so what could it hurt?

OK, here’s the answer: Just look around.

It worked spectacularly for a few weeks, as Iverson’s arrival knocked the Broncos, who were in the playoffs, off the front page.

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Then the Nuggets went back to being the Nuggets, only slightly better, which is what most people expected in the first place.

Attendance ticked up 1% last season and another 1% this season.

They finished 45-37 last season and were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

They finished 50-32 this season and, barring a miracle, will be knocked out in the first round.

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And now for the consequences.

With Iverson’s $19-million salary, owner Stan Kroenke, the Wal-Mart son-in-law who broke his iron-clad rule against paying luxury tax, has the No. 3 payroll at $82.7 million and is looking at a $14.8-million tax bill.

That’s a lot of money to finish No. 8 and last four or five games in the first round, which is why Coach George Karl was supposedly in trouble.

That, and the fact that Anthony announced that they all “quit” in Saturday’s game -- “everybody from the coaches to the players.”

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With Anthony going five for 22 from the field, missing layup after layup to go with his one assist (giving him five for the series) and three turnovers (giving him nine), it might have been seemly to start and end with himself.

Instead, he said, “I stunk” before including himself out, adding, “There is no way I can lay down on my team the way we laid down tonight.”

Actually, he only included himself to be polite. Knowing the players aren’t about to be shipped out en masse, this was Anthony’s diplomatic way of blaming Karl.

Karl declined to discuss his career prospects Saturday, when the franchise seemed like a smoking hole after a bomb has gone off.

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“The mood was almost like somebody died,” said Eduardo Najera, “and Coach Grg [assistant coach Tim Grgurich] just came in and started talking about the great life that we have, and yeah, we’re just playing a game and we always take it really serious but it’s not over yet.

“He was just saying, get one game, that’s all we need.”

They need a lot more than that, starting with some recognition by Anthony that this is a team game.

Then there’s Molten Kenyon Martin, who said of Karl’s lineup changes before Game 3:

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“I guess George thought that’s the way to do it, put a bigger person [Linas Kleiza] in the lineup to match them.

“It has its pros and cons. You just got to make the best of it.”

Amazingly, the most mature Nugget is the one with the star-crossed past, Iverson, who at 32 is a totally stand-up guy, talking win or lose and never making excuses.

The problem is, Iverson can’t be grown up enough for an entire roster that ducks the press at every opportunity and when cornered, blames everyone else in the universe.

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Saturday, the Rocky Mountain News reported that Karl will be back next season, which may or may not come as good news to Karl.

After Game 3, asked about the Nuggets’ flaws, he declined to answer, noting, “That’s summer talk.”

Summer’s coming fast.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com


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