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Preview: Denver travels to San Antonio to take on the surging Spurs

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Happy belated Christmas!

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

The Denver Nuggets should be well-rested this holiday as they travel to San Antonio to take on the new look Spurs for the first time this season. After an offseason trade for DeMar DeRozan that sent Kawhi Leonard north of the border, the Spurs have been forced to adjust to life without a top 10 player. After some initial struggles, the Spurs have regained confidence, going 7-3 in their last ten games.

The Nuggets on the other hand sustained their first loss in awhile, and it was a bad one. Nikola Jokic was ejected in LA against the Clippers, who blew the doors off of Denver. For the first time in awhile, the Nuggets looked exceedingly vulnerable without their normal starters. As soon as Jokic was ejected, who had 19 points through two and a half quarters of play, the game was over.

Can Denver right the ship against a Spurs team that has given them exceeding amounts of trouble? Denver hasn’t won in San Antonio in a long time, and if the Spurs can shut down one of Nikola Jokic or Jamal Murray, expect that streak to continue.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (21-10) at San Antonio Spurs (18-16)

When: 6:00 PM MST

Where: AT&T Center | San Antonio, TX

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW App and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: Pounding the Rock

Injury Report: Gary Harris and Paul Millsap are nearing returns, 1-2 weeks away (Denver Post) while Will Barton should soon follow.

Three things to watch:

Nikola Jokic vs LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge has been worse this season. His efficiency has dropped playing next to DeMar DeRozan, but he’s still a threat to bomb from the midrange and on the block if the matchup warrants it. In the past, Jokic has struggled to defend Aldridge. I doubt the Nuggets put Jokic on Rudy Gay either, so this could be a situation where Aldridge plays 1 v 1 against Jokic for their shared minutes together. How well Jokic defends Aldridge could determine the game’s outcome, and punishing the Spurs big on the other end is extremely important as well.

How the Spurs deal with Torrey Craig

I can almost guarantee that Craig will defend DeRozan for most of this game. He’s Denver’s best matchup against the scoring wing, who’s having a solid season as the leading creator for the Spurs. Will the Spurs still go at Craig with DeRozan? Will they try and foul him out of the game? Will they try and switch Denver’s other players onto DeRozan with their sets? On the other end, will they leave Craig open and pack the paint against Murray and Jokic? Will they be forced to play straight up if Craig knocks down open jumpers? A lot hinges on Craig in this one.

Bench vs Bench

The Spurs bench is a veteran unit full of players Denver struggles to deal with. Patty Mills always seems to catch fire against Denver. Marco Belinelli moves well off ball and hits some insane jumpers. Davis Bertans once hit six three-pointers against the Nuggets on eight total shots. If Denver uses Trey Lyles as the backup center, Jakob Poeltl is also in a position to dominate the paint on both sides. Can Denver continue to excel as a bench unit against players that normally hurt them? Monte Morris and Malik Beasley will be they keys here.