The Denver Nuggets had the worst team in the Western Conference as their opponent in the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night but the Spurs looked anything but. Victor Wembanyama and Nikola Jokic dueled all night with both stars putting up huge nights but in the end it was Jokic and the Nuggets who had just a bit more and were able to come away with the victory. Aaron Gordon also had a strong performance while San Antonio got a big night from Malaki Banham. Denver had some big leads and San Antonio got in front a couple times as well but Denver survives and takes a 110-105 victory.

The Spurs started the game looking to push the ball but Denver was up to the task of slowing them down while Jokic did the early scoring. After he got a dunk from a sloppy Spurs turnover the lead was 9-2 and Gregg Popovich called timeout. It did little to change things with Denver quickly pushing the lead to double digits. The Spurs problem was Denver forced Wemby to be a three point shooter and nobody else on the court for San Antonio was doing anything to help. Eventually they settled down and Wemby started to assert himself more to get the Spurs back within a half dozen. After that Denver’s offense started to get hesitant with Wemby patrolling the paint. That let the Spurs get on an 11-2 run and take the lead. Denver started to get their bench in while the Spurs couldn’t get theirs in which caused Wembanyama to run out of steam while the Nuggets went on a run of their own. Jokic kept scoring and guided the bench unit to a strong close to the quarter. He ended the quarter with fifteen points and the Nuggets led the Spurs 30-23.

Denver’s offense went cold to open the second quarter with Jokic on the bench and they missed their first five shots. While they tried to get it figured out on offense their defense was strong early on but San Antonio chipped away. After the Spurs got within a possession Denver shifted the momentum and quickly pushed the lead back to seven. San Antonio responded and the game was tight halfway through the second quarter. Branham was having a solid shift and was up to thirteen points in the half. The Nuggets suddenly got sluggish and continued to be intimidated by Wembanyama. Before you knew it the Spurs were up seven. Denver fought through it and a tough whistle to keep it close but outside of Jokic everyone was struggling to score. Gordon eventually decided to come with Joker and started getting some buckets inside but Cedi Osman kept getting open shots. Denver kept the pressure on and had another strong close to a quarter. They took the lead right before the half and went into the locker room up 55-54.

Jokic and Gordon kept the offense going coming out of the half but the Nuggets old bugaboo of not boxing out on the defensive glass showed up once again. That led to an angry Michael Malone timeout and to a Spurs run that gave them the lead. The Spurs run hit 11-0 before Denver finally turned things around. Jokic started scoring and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope knocked down a corner three to pull Denver back within five. Joker continued to slice up the Spurs with his passing and completely turned the momentum in Denver’s favor as they quickly seized the lead. He continued to dominate as Wemby got a break in the second half of the quarter. After dishing out some dimes, Jokic got back to scoring and was over the thirty point mark with a few minutes left in the third. Despite all of his dominance, Nikola was once again getting little help and the Spurs had enough scoring to keep Denver from growing the lead. By the time the third finished Denver led by just one, 86-85.

The Nuggets defense was focused to start the fourth quarter. They kept San Antonio off the scoreboard for the first two and a half minutes. Meanwhile everyone on the bench chipped in on offense and got the lead up to ten at the nine minute mark. Wemby seemed to be slowing down, he airballed a three point attempt while Denver maintained the double digit lead and it looked like Denver might finally take hold of the game. Unfortunately, the bench went cold after that which made Malone quickly bring Jokic back into the game. Denver was still cold while San Antonio went on a run just past the halfway mark of the quarter. The defense was still solid, with Peyton Watson swatting shots away but offense was so dismal that the Nuggets allowed San Antonio to come all the way back and take the lead with four minutes to go. Denver looked to Jokic in their moment of need and he delivered a couple of baskets down low to tie the game going into the final minutes. Jokic and Wembanyama dueled down the stretch but it was Porter who hit a huge three with twenty five seconds to break the tie. San Antonio couldn’t respond with a three of their own and Joker iced it at the free throw line. Denver wins 110-105.

Best matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Victor Wembanyama

Apr 2, 2024; Denver, Colorado, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama (1) blocks the shot of Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the fourth quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

To say the future is bright at the center position in the NBA is an understatement. Jokic is going to win his third MVP in a row and dropped forty-two points to go with sixteen rebounds and six assists. Meanwhile, Wembanyama came a block and two assists shy of a twenty-three point quadruple double. Both guys showed how they can absolutely wreck a game plan. Jokic often found himself one on one against Wemby and displayed his skill and ability to find a way to score against any opponent in that scenario. Despite all Joker’s gifts, Victor still tallied several of his nine blocks on Nikola and altered what felt like three dozen shots tonight. The Nuggets found success by living with Wemby’s threes and perhaps the strategy on how to defend him, but when he’s on the other end of the court I don’t know how you neutralize him, even when you have a dominant scorer like Jokic.

Aaron Gordon is playing at an extremely high level

We’ve seen often in Denver lossesย  the culprit is a one man show where Jokic has no one willing to score with him. The Nuggets were in danger of that happening again when Jamal Murray went down but they’ve got lots of support from the front court in Jamal’s absence. First it was Porter but lately its been Gordon who is the number two on the scoreboard. He continues to work in perfect concert with Jokic and bullies any opponent who can’t match his strength. He’s also hitting on his three point shots lately, 40% in his last three games, and that makes all the difference with AG. We saw Malone tighten the rotation to eight players in the second half tonight in a look that very much resembled Denver’s playoff rotation last season with no true backup one or five. When Gordon is playing as well as he is it makes that bench configuration possible as much as anything.

Jokic makes easy work of The Thing to Bet

Jokic’s over/under tonight was 27.5 points and he blew right past it as he continues to be a destructive offensive force against Wembanyama. It was incredible to watch him adapt to Victor’s presence and understand how to adjust his game to be able to take advantage of the one on one matchups. He even made sure to avoid getting his transition layups blocked by throwing down three dunks in the first quarter. Until Wemby proves otherwise, or until the Spurs start doubling Joker, the over on Nikola points will be easy money.