DENVER -- Antsy and anxious, Nuggets coach George Karl returned to the bench after battling cancer.
His team turned it into a stress-free evening.
Karl missed the final two months of last season after being diagnosed with throat and neck cancer. In his absence, the Nuggets stumbled and were eliminated by Utah in the first round of the playoffs.
Did his presence ignite his team?
"I hope Utah fired them up a little bit more than me," Karl said.
Now that he's back, Karl's next assignment is coaxing Anthony to stick around.
"Try to convince Melo the place he wants to be is really Denver. He just doesn't know it yet," Karl said.
Anthony has been mentioned in trade speculation since he brushed off a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nuggets in June. He was in his white jersey with powder blue and gold trim Wednesday, but this possibly could be his final opener with the team.
Unless Karl can persuade him.
"Come on, George. Let me play," Anthony said when told of Karl's comments. "I'm here. Tonight, I was excited about this game. I can't control what happens out there. Whatever happens, is going to happen."
Like Karl, Anthony received a warm reception for the crowd, something he appreciated.
"The fans, they want to see basketball," Anthony said. "They don't want drama. I don't want drama."
There was hardly any drama in this contest. The Nuggets led by as many as 27 points in the third quarter and easily cruised home from there.
Then again, the Nuggets had a chip on their shoulder.
"We've been looking forward to this game for a while," said Chauncey Billups, who needed stitches after biting his lip early in the game. "We've got guys playing really well right now."
Deron Williams had 17 points for Utah, Paul Millsap added 15 and Al Jefferson, acquired in a trade with Minnesota over the summer, finished with six. Jefferson said before the game that Utah's pick-and-roll system fits him "perfect" and that he hopes to thrive like Carlos Boozer and Karl Malone once did.
The Nuggets made sure Jefferson didn't go off in Boozer or Malone fashion, frequently putting two bodies on him.
"Made it more difficult for him to get what he wanted," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
Sloan wasn't particularly pleased with his team's energy level, especially for this being the opener. The Jazz return home Thursday to play Phoenix.
"Our cuts to the basket looked like we were dead tired," Sloan said. "Let's give credit to Denver, but the season's not over."
Andrei Kirilenko, who was held to two points, has had his name surface in rumors as part of a deal that would land him in Denver and Anthony with the New Jersey Nets. Kirilenko is scheduled to make almost $18 million this season in the final year of his contract, making him an obvious trade candidate.
But Kirilenko shrugged off the speculation at the morning shootaround, saying he's been potentially traded "so many times, but I still wear a Jazz uniform. I'm still here."
In fact, he's been with the Jazz longer than any other player on the roster.
"My friends come to me and say, 'Andrei, you're going to Denver," Kirilenko recounted. "I was like, 'Yeah, we have our first game in Denver, that's right.' They're like, 'No, we heard the rumors.' I said, 'That's right, you heard RUMORS.' If something happens, I would know first and prepare my stuff, pack it and go."
But newcomer Shelden Williams had a solid performance, grabbing 16 rebounds.
For Karl, the play of Williams and Al Harrington only bolsters his belief that he has something special brewing in Denver. He told them as much before the game.
"It's an honor and a privilege to try to be a special team in this league," Karl said. "To coach one is my privilege. to play on one is your privilege.
"We showed a lot of good stuff."
Former Nuggets C Dikembe Mutombo was in town to support friend and newly hired GM Masai Ujiri. ... Anthony drew a technical for arguing a call in the first quarter. ... Gordon Hayward, who led Butler to the NCAA finals last season, made his pro debut in the first quarter. He finished with nine points in nearly 21 minutes.
Kris Dunn speaks with Andy Katz about his journey to the NBA draft, what he'll be thinking about when he gets drafted and how he expects to help the team that drafts him next season.
Buddy Hield sits down with Andy Katz to detail how his senior season benefited his draft stock, how his 3-point shooting will help his game at the next level and what it will mean to be drafted coming from the Bahamas.
Who should each team draft? The answers may surprise you. Kevin Pelton provides his projections for both rounds of the draft.