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Kings lose in George Karl’s emotional return to Denver

George Karl gets a hug from his daughter Kaci before Sunday’s game at the Pepsi Center, where he was warmly received.
George Karl gets a hug from his daughter Kaci before Sunday’s game at the Pepsi Center, where he was warmly received. The Associated Press

Even after the game, it was evident Kings coach George Karl never will completely move on from his nine seasons as coach of the Denver Nuggets.

No closure came Sunday, when the Nuggets ran the Kings off the court 122-111 at Pepsi Center.

Both teams have long been out of playoff contention, so that factor couldn’t distract Karl from the emotions of losing his job after being named NBA Coach of the Year for the 2012-13 season.

Karl admits he still has fondness for Nuggets he coached such as Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried. When Karl reads the box scores, he sometimes looks at Denver’s first.

“It’s still an emotional moment in my life,” Karl said. “I can’t deny that I miss Denver. I miss the team; I miss the city. It’s a place I love.”

When the Kings hired him in February, Karl knew he’d return to Denver. But he didn’t plan to do so with a depleted roster.

The Kings’ top three scorers – DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison – have been shut down for the season. The Nuggets exploited the short-handed Kings, jumping to an early lead and blowing the game open after the Kings closed the gap in the second quarter.

Denver shot 54.9 percent and posted season highs of 32 assists and 68 points in the paint.

Karl said Sunday was “a hard day.”

“Having a struggling team and watching my old guys kick my butt pretty good was a challenge,” Karl said. “We’re so short-handed, at times 48 minutes is just too long of a game for us.”

The Kings realized the game’s significance for Karl. , Considering the Nuggets have missed the playoffs in the two seasons since his dismissal, Karl’s popularity remains strong in Denver. He received plenty of hugs from around the arena and a warm welcome when he was introduced.

“We all knew going in how important this game is for him,” Kings forward Omri Casspi said. “But we’re missing key pieces, and it’s hard to play for as long as we’ve played without them.”

Faried made it tough on his old coach with 30 points. He might have topped his career high of 34 had he played in the fourth quarter.

Faried admitted it was “awkward” seeing Karl coach another team.

“He was my first NBA head coach, and he taught me a lot,” Faried said. “We made it to the playoffs every time I was with him. It was bittersweet. I knew I had a job to do (Sunday), but it was also good to see my former coach.”

The loss was the Kings’ third straight and eighth in 10 games as their ninth consecutive losing season winds down. Karl, the team’s third coach this season, admits finding the bright side at this stage is tough, especially with the injuries.

“This team’s been through a lot of misery, and 48 minutes is a long time to stay strong, persevere and not let it get to you,” Karl said. “At times, I thought we let our shoulders drop, their heads drop. But no one’s going to feel sorry for us.”

Karl continues to praise the positives he sees, such as Casspi (22 points, seven rebounds and a career-high-tying seven assists) and Ben McLemore (20 points and a career-high seven assists).

“It’s just tough losing games,” McLemore said. “We’ve just got to continue to get better this last two games against the Lakers and just finish strong.”

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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