The reality of the NBA schedule is often overlooked by NBA fans. Roughly 20 hours after the final buzzer sounded on their heartbreaking loss to the Boston Celtics, the Denver Nuggets will tipoff in San Antonio against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs.
Think about the series of events for the young Denver team. The starters played 35+ minutes in a tough, fast-paced battle in Denver that ended around 10:00 pm. They hit the showers, grabbed a bite to eat, and caught a plane to San Antonio around midnight, probably checked into a hotel room around 4:00 am local time, woke in time for a light shoot around and will be back on the court by 7:00 local time. The players likely won’t get more than 4 consecutive hours of sleep at any point in that stretch.
That’s life in the NBA, and it’s the reason teams are so bad on the second night of a back-to-back. Without the services of Mason Plumlee and dragging their feet with fatigue from last night’s barn-burner, the Nuggets probably feel like Maximus after Commudus stabs him in the side before their final battle. They’ll have to dig deep to stay competitive, and even then, who knows if it’ll be enough.
Who: Denver Nuggets (26-24) at San Antonio Spurs (33-19)
When: 6:30PM MST
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
How to watch/listen: Altitude 2
Rival blog: Pounding the Rock
Point guard: Jamal Murray vs. Dejounte Murray
Shooting guard: Gary Harris vs. Danny Green
Small Forward: Will Barton vs. Kyle Anderson
Power Forward: Kenneth Faried vs. LaMarcus Aldridge
Center: Nikola Jokic vs. Pau Gasol
Injuries: Wilson Chandler (PROBABLE), Mason Plumlee (OUT), Paul Millsap (OUT)
Kawhi Leonard (OUT), Rudy Gay (OUT)
The Nuggets are short on defensive specialists at the moment. Plumlee is sidelined with a strained calf, Paul Millsap is still recovering from wrist surgery, and Wilson Chandler remains day-to-day with migraines. Michael Malone now faces a somewhat lose-lose decision about who to start at the power forward spot. He’s out of good options for his rotation so the Nuggets will be hoping that some of the end of bench guys can contribute while they try to piece together a rotation.
Kenneth Faried makes the most sense as the starter since he and Nikola Jokic have great chemistry together on the offensive end and Faried can somewhat matchup with San Antonio’s size, but Faried has also been largely out of Malone’s rotation over the last several weeks. Trey Lyles has gotten a few starts this season but he is undersized to match-up with either Pau Gasol or Aldridge, the team’s two starting bigs. Darrell Arthur brings a workman-like defensive attitude but he has played just 50 minutes all season, the fewest of anyone besides Tyler Lydon and Monte Morris.
In their fist match-up of the season, the Spurs shot 51% from behind the arc en route to a blowout win. Davis Bertans was the main culprit, making 6 of 7 attempts from behind the arc with many of those coming with Nikola Jokic guarding him. The Spurs did a great job of breaking through the first line of defense, drawing Jokic into the paint, and kicking to Bertans in the corner. The Nuggets will likely have more mobile players at the power forward spot in this game but the three-point threat remains the same.
The Nuggets have to be discouraged by the upcoming slate of games. They’re human just like the rest of us and they have to be feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything working against them at the moment. However, I’m curious to see which players still bring their best shot in this one. You can tell a lot about a player with how they compete in situations where the odds are not in their favor. Let’s see what the energy level is tonight and which guys approach this game like it’s a game they can win.