DENVER (AP) -George Karl has a simple solution for the Denver Nuggets' lack of bench production.
``I'll ask A.I. to come off the bench,'' Karl said Thursday.
Of course he needs Allen Iverson in the starting lineup. But Karl is sick of hearing about how the reserves aren't producing. The Nuggets' backups have scored just 13 points in the first two games of the first-round series with San Antonio.
``Don't go crazy on this,'' said Karl, whose team will host the Spurs on Saturday night in Game 3. ``It's how you rotate the game.''
Karl is trying to create more minutes for 3-point specialist J.R. Smith, but the Spurs go to work on Smith whenever he steps into the game. Manu Ginobili has been driving past Smith with what Smith terms his ``Euro step.''
``He takes an extra step every time he gets into the paint,'' Smith said. ``It always works for him. They never call a walk. I might try it.''
At this point, Smith will try anything. He can't get on the floor to contribute because of his struggling defense. He's 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in the postseason after hitting a career-high 149 in the regular season.
``I'm not playing well at all in no area of my game,'' Smith said. ``If I start playing defense a lot more, I think that will get me going.''
But when Smith subs in, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich directs the Spurs' offense to go right at him.
``It's not very much fun when you have to put J.R. on Ginobili,'' Karl said. ``You don't think Pop knows that? Every play he runs when Ginobili is in the game is against (Smith). J.R. gets tricked. We're going to spend some time with J.R.''
The Nuggets averaged 28.7 points a game off the bench in the regular season. Smith has confidence that he, Linas Kleiza and Eduardo Najera - the only players to sub in off the bench in the first two games - can provide a spark in the series. So far in the postseason, though, the trio are a combined 4-for-21 from the field.
``We're probably one of the best non-known guys off the bench that come in and do work in the entire league,'' Smith said.
The Spurs bench, meanwhile, has accounted for 66 points in two games.
Just don't mention that to Karl. To him, it's an unfair comparison, especially with Ginobili and Robert Horry coming off the bench for San Antonio.
``Just because Horry and Ginobili come off the bench doesn't mean they're not their top-five players,'' Karl said. ``All I'm saying is for six weeks when we go 10-1 (to end the season), no one talked about our bench. No one said, 'Hey, they're not playing well.' We're playing the same bench. Maybe a tighter leash, not much. If you're bringing Manu off the bench, it's different. You're bringing your starter off the bench.''
The series now switches to Denver, where the Nuggets have struggled this season. The Nuggets went 23-18 in the regular season at the Pepsi Center, the seventh-worst home mark in team history.
Popovich doesn't put much stock in things like that.
``At this point, that ball goes up ... everything else is pretty superfluous,'' he said.
Including how much the altitude difference may bother the Spurs.
``It doesn't really do anything to anybody,'' Popovich said. ``We'll read the sign, though, when we come in - 17 thousand, 600 million feet, whatever it is.''
The Spurs simply want to find a way to slow down Iverson (25.5 points a game in the playoffs) and Carmelo Anthony (28).
``Both demand a lot of attention,'' Popovich said. ``And usually that's not the case, where there are two on the same team. So it does present a unique challenge.''
The Nuggets have a challenge as well - squeezing more offense out of the bench.
Karl just smiled when asked how to create better minutes and matchups for bench players like Smith and Kleiza.
``Send them to church,'' he said. ``Pray a little bit. Pray that Pop will let them wide open for a couple of 3s that might go in.''

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