Nene has sprained knee, not torn ACL

DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets flew to Salt Lake City on Thursday without injured center Nene but relieved that their big man only has a hyperextended left knee and not a torn ACL as feared.Nene might even be able to play Sunday night if the Nuggets can beat the Utah Jazz in Game 6 Friday night and force a Game 7.Seeing Nene back on the court this weekend seemed like a remote possibility when he painfully hobbled off the court in the first half of Denver’s 116-102 win in Game 5 at the Pepsi Center.An MRI on Thursday, however, revealed no ligament or meniscus damage, only a sprain, the team said.Nene tore the ACL in his right knee in the 2005-06 opener and missed the remainder of the season.Nene averaged 13.8 points and seven rebounds in the first four games of this series and he had four assists to go with two points and a rebound in 14 minutes Wednesday night before his knee-to-knee collision with Carlos Boozer sent him crumpling to the floor and then hobbling off to the locker room in pain.”I just saw him go down, the shot went up. The next thing I know he was on the ground,” Boozer said.Chris Andersen and John Petro played admirably in Nene’s absence and they’ll have to put together a similar performance if the Nuggets are to avoid elimination Friday night, Carmelo Anthony said.”We’ve been facing challenges like this the whole season,” Anthony said after the game, noting that the Nuggets have had to make do without coach George Karl (cancer) and Kenyon Martin (knee) for long stretches this season and even went without himself and Chauncey Billups at times.”Guys had to step up and face that challenge,” Anthony said. “As a whole, we did a great job doing that this season. I don’t see why we can’t continue doing that now.”Before the good news on Nene, the Nuggets were of the mindset that he was done for an extended period, perhaps well into next season.”I saw him at halftime. He was sad. We’re sad for him,” Anthony said after the game. “As bad as I don’t want to say it, we still have to go out there and play basketball. We’ve got guys like Petro step up tonight big for us in replacement of Nene. We’re looking for him to step up even bigger come Friday.”Much like the Jazz have done in this series after losing their center, Mehmet Okur, who ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon in the first half of the series opener, the Nuggets played solid basketball in the paint without their main big man.Andersen scored 10 points and grabbed seven boards and Petro chipped in four points and six rebounds.”When he went out they picked themselves up,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “They seemed to get a lot stronger.”

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