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Preview: Spurs at Nuggets

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Stuck in a bit of a tailspin, the Nuggets host the Spurs - not a recipe for a reset.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For the Nuggets it is the best of times - and it is the worst of times. They are playing lights-out on offense, have identified a point-center and future star in Nikola Jokic, and are just a game out of the 8th spot in the playoffs. They also have a losing record thanks to abominable defense, some locker room frictions boiling to the surface regarding playing time (Jusuf Nurkic) and leadership (Malone vs. veterans), and an inability to win games they should definitely win.

This game is not one of those games. The San Antonio Spurs roll in with just seven losses, the second-best PPG defense in the league, and a hall of fame coach in Greg Popovich who will likely enjoy testing Denver’s baby-faced center and newly-minted offensive scheme while his team cuts Denver’s so-called defense to ribbons.

Who’s up for some ice cream?

The Basics

Who: San Antonio Spurs (28-7) vs Denver Nuggets (14-21)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to watch: Altitude, AM 950

Rival Blog: Pounding the Rock

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

Injury Report: Kenneth Faried - questionable (back), Darrell Arthur - probably (knee), Jameer Nelson - probably (abdomen)

Featured matchup: Nikola Jokic vs. Pau Gasol. I had Jokic listed as the better player in the matchup, but it just felt weird enough that I bumped them back to even. Jokic is a bouncy puppy right now, while Gasol is a grizzled junkyard dog who knows exactly what to do on defense. Gasol is a good comp for Jokic’s upside - a nice thing when a future Hall of Famer is someone you can reasonably emulate - but Gasol already knows all the tricks, and is bigger and stronger than Jokic.

Jokic fighting off Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid is one thing, but Gasol is a challenge for someone who likes to work the little things like positioning and angles. He works those too. I’m really curious to see how this plays out with Jokic now in a featured role. Nikola put up 23 and 12 on the Spurs last year in their first meeting, catching them by surprise. He had just 6 points, 2 boards and 4 fouls in the second meeting - but both of those were in November. With another year under his belt, I’m looking forward to Jokic stepping back in the ring against one of the greatest big men of his generation and putting himself to the test.

What to watch for: the slightest whiff of defense. The Spurs move the ball. They will force teams out of position to get the easiest shots and they will run teams ragged in the attempt. They are 11th in PPG despite being 5th in offensive efficiency because they want to hurt you before they score on you. Denver might not get run ragged, but that’s because right now they aren’t running on defense at all. Denver has some size inside they can put to use in Jokic and Nurkic, but their backcourt (and wing) defense has been poor, to put it kindly. Denver’s bigs are talented but they aren’t shot-blockers, so the perimeter defenders will have to put in more work or it could be a long night.

Prediction: Spurs 105, Denver 94. Denver gets up for big games, but they don’t get the stops they need to win them. The Spurs have the best players as well as the firepower on both ends of the floor to make life difficult for Denver, and a few forced fouls could put the Nuggets in a downward spiral. Denver might notch another moral victory, but even if the team is fired up after the Kings debacle I’m not expecting a check in the win column.