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George Karl cancer diagnosis: Will his fight help focus an unfocused team?

The news that Nuggets coach George Karl has a form of throat cancer and will miss a number of practices and games over the next month and a half came as a shock. After all, the last big news about Karl coming out of the Nuggets front office involved him signing a one-year, $4.5 million contract extension less than a week ago.

This timing couldn't have been coincidental. Clearly, the team wanted to take care of the contract situation so the matter of Karl's future with the squad wouldn't be question one at the press conference to announce his prognosis. But while such a bombshell would distract many teams, it's likely to have the opposite effect on the Nuggets. Indeed, Karl's battle could make the team fight harder and more consistently for the remainder of the season.

Despite the Nuggets' impressive record to date, fans have been frustrated at times knowing that it could be even better. The assemblage of talent on the roster is extremely high, and when everyone is locked in and filled with a common purpose, they can beat anyone -- even the Lakers in Los Angeles, as they proved earlier this month.

But this kind of drive and determination isn't present every night, and the resulting lapses can be ugly. For proof, just ask anyone who watched the Nugs lose to the friggin' Minnesota Timberwolves at home in November and phone in a performance against the San Antonio Spurs, also at home, right before the All-Star break.

Given what Karl's going through, however, the Nuggets won't need reminding about what's important now -- and hopefully, this knowledge will inspire them to bring their A-game to the arena every night, as opposed to assuming they'll wind up as the number two seed and be able to dial up the energy at playoffs time.

Cancer's never a good thing -- but in this case, something good can come out of it.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts