The Denver Nuggets got their first bubble win on Monday after taking down a gritty Oklahoma City Thunder team in overtime. Even though the Nuggets were once again without three starters (Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton), they got significant contributions from Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and prized rookie Michael Porter Jr. Perhaps more importantly, Denver was able to shore up their defensive rotations after horrid defense against the Miami Heat resulted in a blowout loss on Saturday.

Although the Nuggets have yet to hit their stride, the team has shown mental fortitude early on, and it’s a great sign for the ball club. Now they’ll need to show that they can keep their momentum against the San Antonio Spurs, who had their first loss in Orlando but are now 2-1 in the bubble. Veteran star DeMar DeRozan leads a perimeter group that includes young guards Derrick White and Dejounte Murray. When factoring in the top-notch coaching of legendary head coach Gregg Popovich, it’s clear that the Nuggets will need to play strong perimeter defense and make heady basketball plays on both ends to earn this victory.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (44-23, 1-1) at San Antonio Spurs (29-37, 2-1)

When: 2:00 PM MST

Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, FL

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV/NBA TV

Rival Blog: Pounding The Rock

Position Nuggets Spurs
PG Monte Morris Dejounte Murray
SG Torrey Craig Derrick White
SF Michael Porter Jr. Lonnie Walker IV
PF Paul Millsap DeMar DeRozan
C Nikola Jokic Jakob Poetl
Bench Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, PJ Dozier, Troy Daniels, Bol Bol Rudy Gay, Patty Mills, Keldon Johnson, Drew Eubanks

Injury Report: Jamal Murray – day-to-day (hamstring); Gary Harris – day-to-day (hip); Will Barton – day-to-day (knee); Vlatko Cancar – out (foot)

Three Questions for Today’s Game

How will the Nuggets’ defense look?

After allowing Miami to shoot 55.6% from the field and 44.8% from 3-point range, Denver held the Oklahoma City to 42.5% shooting from the field. The Thunder still managed to shoot 41.7% from 3, but the difference in defensive effort and rotations from the Nuggets from their first seeding game to their second was night and day. Fortunately for the Nuggets, the Spurs aren’t big on shooting 3-pointers, taking 28.6 per game (ranked 28th in the NBA) this season. However, they’ve shot 47.0% from the field (ranked 6th in the NBA), which is a nod to their methodical but effective style of play.

For the Nuggets to pull out a win against San Antonio, their intensity and decision-making on the defensive end will have to be at least as good as it was against Oklahoma City.

Can Michael Porter Jr. stay hot?

Without Murray and Barton on the floor, Denver needs a big-time scoring burst from someone other than Jokic. Although Millsap and Morris scored 17 points each against the Thunder, the player that fit the bill for the Nuggets against OKC was MPJ. If the Nuggets look for Porter early and allow him to establish a rhythm in the first quarter, Denver could be looking at another high scoring night from the rook. Porter’s career-high 37 points looked effortless and that can’t do anything but boost the young man’s confidence after a subpar performance against the Heat.

DeRozan has the ability to hang 30 on a team any given night and neither Murray or White are pushovers, so the Nuggets would certainly benefit from MPJ having another great night.

Will any of the missing starters return?

Each of Murray, Harris and Barton are officially listed as day-to-day and as Denver is more focused on the playoffs than the seeding games, they could remain out against the Spurs. However, it would be ideal for the starting unit to establish a rhythm before the postseason begins and after their contest against San Antonio, the Nuggets will be nearly halfway through the bubble’s seeding games.

As Denver has to play a back-to-back, facing the Portland Trail Blazers just a day after they play the Spurs, it seems unlikely that their injured starters will play in both games. Considering that the Nuggets have a sour taste in their mouth after the Blazers knocked them out of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, I would bet my money on at least one of their injured starters suiting up for the game against Portland though.