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Game 80 Preview & Thread: Spurs at Nuggets (7pm MST)

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77798_spurs_nuggets_basketball_medium_mediumLong one of the NBA's most consistent teams, the Spurs have played more erratically than our Nuggets this season. This makes them a scary matchup tonight.

The last 12 games played by the Spurs has been a microcosm of their bizarre 2009-10 campaign, a season that many - including yours truly - thought they'd end up fighting for the 1st-seed alongside the Lakers. Over the last 12 games, the Spurs have won seven, including impressive victories at Oklahoma City, Boston and at Los Angeles against the Lakers. Additionally, the Spurs beat the East's two best teams - Cleveland and Orlando - handily at home. And yet among those five losses in the same span the Spurs were bested by New Jersey (not a typo) on the road, the Lakers at home and, last night, by the Grizzlies at home.

And thus, what could or should have been a run at their fifth championship in 12 years, the once mighty Spurs instead find themselves fighting with Portland and Oklahoma City to avoid drawing the Lakers in the playoffs first round.

Regardless of the Spurs predicament, and the fact that they'll be coming into Denver on the second of a back-to-back, this team still scares the crap out of me as a Nuggets fan. Earlier in the season, the Nuggets won impressively twice at San Antonio, the second time without Carmelo Anthony even suiting up. And yet in February the Spurs were able to come into Denver on the fifth game of a five-game, pre-All-Star break road trip and wipe the Nuggets off the floor easily. Simply put, this Alamo team doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

But while the Spurs are stumbling yet again towards the finish line, the Nuggets have gotten suddenly hot (albeit doing it as ugly as possible). Our Nuggets have won four straight, including a tough win at OKC on Wednesday followed by the back-to-back home win over the Kobe-less Lakers on Thursday. Given how the Nuggets played for much of that OKC game and that they need a last-second shot block by Melo to best the thinned out Lakers, I don't think any of us are enamored with how the Nuggets are playing. But wins are wins, and the Nuggets have tee'd themselves up to run the tables for the remainder of the season and secure the Western Conference's two-seed.

It's hard to use terms like "no excuses" when facing the likes of the Spurs - a team that can win at the Staples Center and the TD Banknorth Garden within the same week. But given that the Spurs are inconsistent, have lost two straight and got into Denver early this morning, at the very least we could argue that the Nuggets have "no excuse" not to lose.

Oh, and Kenyon Martin - depending on who you ask - might be playing tonight and this couldn't happen soon enough. The Nuggets need at least two (and I'd argue three) regular season games to work K-Mart back into the lineup before the playoffs begin. All of Nuggets Nation is collectively hoping that K-Mart's re-acclimation process begins tonight.

SCOUTING THE SPURS...

Spurs Stiffs

-Richard Jefferson: In the offseason, the Spurs went all-in to try securing one more NBA championship while Tim Duncan still has it, and that included the acquisition of the expensive yet previously effective Jefferson. Unfortunately for San Antonio (and fortunately for everyone else in the Western Conference), RJ started laying eggs from Day One in a Spurs uniform. That said, RJ has played better lately and is always a concern for opponents.

-Matt Bonner: For what he is - a 6'10" pasty white red head who operates from the outside of the three-point arc only - Bonner is a very successful NBA player. All those characteristics also make him a bona fide Stiff.

Spurs Non-Stiffs

-Manu Ginobili: Nuggets fans hate Manu, but I've never been able to. It's hard to hate a guy that's been a champion on every level and, when healthy, is arguably the third-best shooting guard in the NBA behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. With the exception of two recent clunker performances against the Kings and Suns, Manu has been on fire, including a 43-point game against the Magic and a 32-point outing against the Lakers last week.

-Tim Duncan: Soon approaching his 34th birthday, Duncan may finally be showing the wear and tear of a career that's never missed a playoff appearance and has never participated on a non-50 win team (except during the lockout shortened 1998-99 campaign). He's still rebounding well, but his scoring has dipped substantially over the past 15 or so games.

Opposition's Take: Pounding the Rock

Photo courtesy of AP: David Zalubowski