DENVER — George Karl and Jerry Sloan each have their own reasons to be concerned about their respective teams' 2010-11 season-openers.
While talking about former Denver Nuggets player Francisco Elson, Karl marveled about the size of the Utah Jazz. Even with 6-11 center Mehmet Okur sidelined with his Achilles rehab, Utah's height advantage could play a large factor in determining the outcome of the 7 p.m. clash between the two Northwest Division rivals.
That will be especially prominent because Denver is missing two of its biggest players with knee injuries in 6-9 Kenyon Martin and 6-10 Chris Andersen. Along with 7-foot Elson, Utah also has 7-foot-1 Kyrylo Fesenko, 6-10 Al Jefferson and two 6-9 players in Andrei Kirilenko and Jeremy Evans.
"Is Francisco going to play today? Man, they're going to be as big as hell," Karl quipped after Denver's shootaround. "Francisco will be about six inches taller than anybody covering him tonight."
Karl also believes Utah's new big man, Jefferson, will prove to be a good fit with Sloan's squad. He also likes the addition of Raja Bell to the Jazz lineup.
"They had a great training camp, a great exhibition season," Karl said. "Their defense seems to be vastly improved over last year. I love Raja, and I think Jefferson was a young kid who was kind of lost in a tough situation in Minnesota."
Karl will be making his return to the Denver bench after missing the last part of the 2009-10 season — and the Nuggets' first-round series loss to Utah — while battling throat and neck cancer.
"I'm just glad he's back. My wife (Bobbye) died of pancreatic cancer and she went through some tough times," Sloan recalled at today's shootaround session. "If you're not there involved in it, you don't know what's going on with it too much. ... I'm sure he had some tremendous problems to deal with and you've got to give him a lot of credit for fighting back and coming back and doing his job."
As for the game, Sloan continues to be concerned about another guy returning to Denver: Carmelo Anthony.
Ironically, Andrei Kirilenko will get the first defensive crack at Melo. Kirilenko, of course, nearly ended up being traded to Denver in a proposed pre-camp, four-team deal that would have sent Anthony to New Jersey.
"Andrei's played against him. He's more of a veteran player," Sloan said. "That's why you don't play these young guys against him too much, because he's going to score probably 40 points. He's that kind of player."
Sloan wants his team to focus on execution both on offense and defense as the Jazz try to open the season with a win. Though Utah ultimately got the Nuggets when it counted — in the playoffs — the Jazz failed to do that last year when they opened up with a loss in Denver.6 comments on this story
"It's here. That's what we've worked for," Sloan said. "We'll make some mistakes, I'm sure. But hopefully we try to do what we like to do and that's hopefully pass the ball and try to defend some people."
Deron Williams wants to set the tone for the season with a positive outcome against the rival Nuggets.
"It's going to be a tough game. We want to get a win," he said. "We know they're going to have it out for us since we booted them from the playoffs. We need to get this one."