The last time the Denver Nuggets met the San Antonio Spurs, Denver was 6-5 and feeling pretty good about themselves after a nice little streak of home wins. Reality crashed down on them since, as they have lost all four of their games including that one at the AT&T Center. The Nuggets were competitive in that first matchup without being all that threatening.
Nikola Jokic had a career game and Gary Harris put up a good-shooting first half, but the Nuggets fell prey to the quality shots and endless pick and rolls that are San Antonio's bread-and-butter. The good feeling from the previous home wins have evaporated, with Emmanuel Mudiay and Michael Malone getting into a bench argument in the waning moments of their latest loss to the Clippers. Mudiay apologized and credited it to the competitive spirit of both men, which Malone essentially agreed with in his bland statement afterward.
There's nothing wrong with competitive feistiness, as long as neither party takes it personally, but it does remain something to keep an eye on if the losing continues. It could always be worse: Jahlil Okafor punched out a drunk heckler outside a bar in Boston as the 76ers remain winless-for-the-season. It's hard to be a fan of good basketball in the City of Brotherly Love; hopefully the Nuggets bring wins back to the Mile High City as soon as tonight, especially since the Spurs will also be shorthanded per this article:
We'll see if the Nuggets can make them pay for that. It would certainly be a nice night to find some pace.
|San Antonio Spurs||Denver Nuggets||Advantage|
|PG||Tony Parker||Emmanuel Mudiay||Spurs|
|SG||Danny Green||Gary Harris||Even|
|SF||Kawhi Leonard||Danilo Gallinari||Spurs|
|PF||LaMarcus Aldridge||Darrell Arthur||Spurs|
|C||Boris Diaw||Nikola Jokic||Spurs|
|Bench||David West, Kyle Anderson, Rasual Butler, Patty Mills||Even
1) Gallinari has to show up. Danilo was held in check for most of the first matchup with the Spurs, hitting his first basket from the field with two minutes to go in the third quarter. With Mudiay still struggling with his shot (33% from the field on the year) Denver cannot afford for Gallo to go AWOL for 30+ minutes again. Normally he starts fast and fades out as the game progresses, but has been managing to get to the line for a career-high 7.3 FT attempts per game, scoring even when his shot is not falling (his FG and eFG percentages are the lowest of his career). Coach Michael Malone is going to have to find ways to get him the ball away from Kawhi Leonard's blanket coverage, and to get him going early in order to keep the Nuggets within reach. He'll also need to find ways to use Gallo as a ruse in order to open the floor up for others. Gallinari is the best player on the Nuggets, and beating Denver can't simply be a matter of defending Gallo and letting the rest of the Nuggets brick shots.
2) Other people do too. Nikola Jokic had his breakout game against the Spurs the last time, scoring 23 points and snagging 12 rebounds (that 23 was more points than Gallo, Jameer, Foye and Mudiay combined). He won't sneak up on the Spurs again (which would make a repeat performance that much more impressive even without Duncan in the lineup), but someone needs to. With Faried and likely Lauvergne missing this game as well with injuries the Nuggets will be extremely short-handed. If they intend to win it can't be a one-man or even a two-man show. It will need to be a team effort, whether that's rebounding or scoring, but especially passing. These Nuggets get stagnant ball movement for entire quarters and wind up shooting themselves out of games. If they can pass for 48 minutes maybe they'll have a chance to keep scoring for 48 minutes as well, no matter who is putting the shots up.
3) Defend the Pick and Roll. The Spurs abused the Nuggets in their last meeting, getting pretty much anything they wanted with rolls and screen action. Mudiay in particular likes to go under screens and the bigs have been bad positionally, leaving a layup line and easy points for any team that wants to force them to fight through picks to get to ball-handlers. The Spurs definitely want to. In order to defeat San Antonio, Denver will have to keep their energy up for the whole game and continue to fight on defense. They have not been able to defend the 3-point line at all this year, but if they can at least shut down the paint points and roll game of the Spurs they might be able to eke out a bad shooting night for the opposition for the first time in a while.
Prediction: Nuggets fall 102-97