TORONTO - George Karl is making a habit of winning milestone games at Air Canada Centre.
Karl earned his 1,000th coaching victory, as Al Harrington scored a season-high 31 points and Nene added 26 to help the Denver Nuggets hold off the Toronto Raptors 123-116 on Friday night.
He also won his 900th game as an NBA coach in Toronto on Dec. 31, 2008.
But there is more to this than just wins. The 59-year-old Karl, who is the seventh NBA coach to reach the 1,000-win mark, has faced cancer twice, with the most recent bout coming last season.
Karl acknowledged a fight with throat and neck cancer right after the all-star game and coached for three weeks while undergoing treatment. He missed the final 14 games of the regular season and the Nuggets short playoff run.
"It just seems that there is a peacefulness to it," Karl said when asked if what he had gone through made the milestone win even more special. "A contentment to it. To me the thing I felt in the build-up to it and now getting it is to thank the people who helped me along the way."
At the end of the game, each of his players came up to him one-by-one to congratulate him.
"I felt together with them, connected with them," he said. "A lot of times during an NBA season the coach and players aren't really connected, they are fighting a lot and this was a moment not only on the court but in the locker room afterwards there was a great connection.
"It feels good and it will feel good for the next couple of days and then we got on to improving our NBA record and not worry about George Karl."
Linas Kleiza, who played four seasons with Denver, scored 26 off the bench with 11-for-16 shooting for the Raptors (8-15).
Nene added 26 points and Chauncey Billups had 21 for the for the Nuggets (14-8).
Andrea Bargnani scored 24 points, Leandro Barbosa chipped in with 22 off the bench and Sonny Weems scored 21 for Toronto, which has dropped four straight.
Both the Raptors and Nuggets played without a key starter Friday. Denver forward Carmelo Anthony missed his second game in a row with right knee soreness, while Raptors point guard Jose Calderon didn't play because of a sore left foot and a cold.
With Calderon out, the Raptors started Jerryd Bayless at point guard and ran a simplified offence for the player acquired from New Orleans on Nov. 20. Barbosa backed him up there and was used significantly after Bayless picked up two fouls in the first quarter.
Bayless scored three points on 1-for-9 shooting that included 1-for-4 from three-point range and had five assists.
"Defensively they had a lot of mismatches tonight," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. "When Chauncey got two fouls on Bayless we had to replace him with a guy who's not a natural point guard and that hurt us.
"And then our fours couldn't stay at all with Harrington. He just drove past them, he used his quickness and they spread the floor, so they went with a smaller lineup and we had to try to match that.
But we can`t play defence for half a game. I thought in the second half we attempted it and that's all I ask of our guys."
Calderon will not travel with the team for Saturday's game at Detroit but he hoped the guard would be ready to play at Charlotte on Tuesday.
Denver, which led 74-65 at the half, took a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter thanks to a 59.3 shooting percentage and finished the game at 56.6 per cent.
Harrington was difficult for the Raptors as he shot 6-for-11 from three-point range.
"That's the way he plays," Barbosa said. "He is good at shooting the three-pointers and it's tough because he can go inside and shoot the ball and he is quick for his size."
The Raptors crept to within 10 but Harrington answered with a three-pointer on a 26-foot fade-away jumper as the shot clock expired with seven minutes left. The Raptors were again within 10 after Bayless, who was 0-for-8 from the floor until that point, hit a three with 6:45 left.
Weems hit a three of his own to cut the lead to seven with 4:27 to play but J.R. Smith answered with another three-pointer for the Nuggets. Kleiza continued the long-range shooting, burying another three as the Raptors again cut the Denver lead to seven with 2:18 to play.
Bargnani's three-pointer cut it to four with 46.9 seconds left but the lead was back up to six when Billups hit two free throws with 19.5 seconds to go. Bargnani then missed a three as Toronto's comeback fizzled.
Notes: The Raptors recalled rookie centre Solomon Alabi from Erie of the NBA D-League on Thursday. ... Raptors assistant coach Alex English is the Nuggets all-time leading scorer and his No. 2 hangs from the rafters at the Pepsi Center in Denver. ... Raptors forward Peja Stojakovic missed his seventh game in a row with a swollen left knee. ... Denver forward Chris Andersen missed his fourth game in a row with a left lower back transverse process fracture. ... Attendance at Air Canada Centre was 14,714. ... Toronto plays at Detroit on Saturday.