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Preview: Denver Nuggets face tough road test against San Antonio Spurs

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The Nuggets three game winning streak is in jeapordy

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets are riding high after their trip to London last week. Now on a winning streak that started across the pond, the Nuggets are aiming to get that streak up to four with tonight’s contest. Unfortunately, in order to do that they will have to find a way to steal a victory on the road against one of the best teams in the NBA in the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs will be the first of three playoff caliber opponents the Nuggets will play over the next four games in what is one of the tougher weeks of their schedule. If they come out flat, it could be the start of a long week.

San Antonio meanwhile just keeps on chugging. Despite the retirement of Spurs icon Tim Duncan, San Antonio has earned a record of 32-9 at the halfway point of the season and sits in the second seed of Western Conference. A large part of this is because the Spurs conveniently were able to identify their next superstar as Duncan aged, that player of course is Kawhi Leonard. It’s amazing that Kawhi doesn’t get more consideration as the best player in the NBA. He’s hands down the best perimeter defender in the league and his offensive game just continues to get better every year. This season is no different, despite shooting a lower percentage from the field, efficiency for Leonard is at an all time high due to the fact he’s getting to the free throw line at a much higher rate. If the Nuggets are going to get a W, it will start with containing Kawhi on both ends of the court.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (17-23) at San Antonio Spurs (32-9)

When: 6:30 PM MST

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio TX

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and Altitude radio AM 950

Rival blog: Pounding the Rock

Position Nuggets Spurs Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Tony Parker Spurs
SG Will Barton Danny Green Spurs
SF Danilo Gallinari Kawhi Leonard Spurs
PF Kenneth Faried LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs
C Nikola Jokic Pau Gasol Nuggets
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Juancho Hernangomez David Lee, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobli, Dewayne Dedmon, Jonathon Simmons Spurs

Injured players: Danilo Gallinari - questionable (ankle), Nikola Jokic - probable (ankle), Darrell Arthur - out (knee), Wilson Chandler - out (personal), Gary Harris - out (ankle)

Key match up: Kawhi Leonard vs Danilo Gallinari

As we’ve said, the Nuggets have their hands full with Leonard, but its going to be even more of Gallo’s responsibility to mitigate that given the fact that Chandler is not available tonight. Gallo has been one of the main catalysts for this winning streak, including a red hot game against the Indiana Pacers in London. He probably is lined up for a rough night given the quality of the player defending him but what Gallo needs to do tonight won’t show up on the stat sheet. When he’s on offense the Nuggets need Gallo to make Kawhi work as hard as he possibly can. This means constantly moving off ball and not settling for contested jumpers when he does have the rock.

Key thing to watch for: Bench play

The bench has been terrible during this win streak. Basically it seems as if the Nuggets bench is just desperately trying to hold on until Jokic gets back onto the court. This is becoming an even bigger problem with the injuries. Harris going down means Barton’s scoring gets taken from the bench unit and inserted in the starting lineup, Chandler being out doubles down on losing scoring punch from the reserves. If there was ever a game that the Nuggets needed Jamal Murray to have a hot night and get close to 20 points, it’s tonight. Otherwise the bench is going to have to get a big night scoring from someone like Jameer Nelson, which is...less than ideal. Keep an eye on Juancho Hernangomez as well, he’s likely to get a big chunk of the minutes vacated by Chandler’s absence.

Opening thought: Man, what a win this would be

The deck is stacked hard against Denver tonight with the injuries and the quality of their opponent and the fact that this is their third game in four nights. Last time the contest felt this tilted to one side was the first time the Nuggets went to Los Angeles to play the Clippers where they were unceremoniously taken behind the woodshed. It’s going to be tough to pull off a victory tonight but it would be huge. The trip to London and subsequent winning streak has everyone feeling positive about the Nuggets again but we’ve seen this before. Now, if they lose I don’t think anyone is going to raise too many eyebrows about it given it’s the Spurs in San Antonio, but if they win...well lets just say there will be a lot less talk about who the Denver Broncos special teams coordinator will be on the radio tomorrow.