The Denver Nuggets have been everyone's favorite dark horse contender in the West as of late, especially now after extending their home winning streak to 21. Denver holds the best home record in the league, at 36-3, better than Miami (34-4), Oklahoma City (33-6), and San Antonio (34-5). Other contenders in the West have similarly stellar home records, with the Grizzlies at 31-8 and the Clippers at 31-9. But the Nuggets have had a recent stroke of bad luck, seeing their two scoring leaders go down to injury. Point guard Ty Lawson has a torn plantar fascia in his right heel and forward Danilo Gallinari tore his left ACL last week, ending his stellar season. Fortunately for the Nuggets, they are the deepest team in the league coached by one of the best NBA coaches around, George Karl. Denver can arguably boast a bench lineup that could make the playoffs if they were a starting lineup - Andre Miller, Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, Anthony Randolph, and JaVale McGee. The Nuggets bench takes advantage of other teams' second units and overpowers them with their energy, athleticism, and unselfishness. The team is up there in various important categories; 2nd in rebounding, 3rd in assists, and nine players on their roster are averaging at least 8 points per game with 6 sitting in double digits. So even though Ty Lawson has been hurt, Andre Miller is able to fill in good minutes in his place and both Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler can essentially take over all the minutes that Danilo Gallinari is vacating (32.5). Evan Fournier, Nando's fellow rookie countryman (at 20 years old), is getting good minutes in as well, and has scored at least 17 points in three of his past four games (before San Antonio). He's swiped 8 steals, dished out 12 assists and has only turned it over four times in those four games.
Getting back to injury of Denver's second-leading scorer, let's look closer at both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari's numbers, per Basketball Reference:
The two players share a lot of similarities, from being first round picks by the New York Knicks (2007 for Chandler and 2008 for Gallo), and both were traded in the 2011 season to Denver in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. Other than a season in China for Chandler (where he averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds), they have played nearly their entire careers together and their statistics are nearly identical. They are good offensive players and have the ability to drive to the hoop and grab a decent amount of boards. Gallo is more of a shooter (but has a worse field goal percentage), and can drive to the hoop better. Chandler can hit from outside and is more athletic, which helps him out on the defensive end... and on driving dunks against Tim Duncan.
Per game statistics:
It is easy to notice that Gallo scores more points and gets to line twice as much as Chandler but other than that, their numbers are still very similar. Chandler is more efficient is his 24 minutes per game (Gallo averaged nearly 33), and has been shooting 41% from deep - the team high for the Nuggets. They both average around 5 boards a game but Gallo passes the ball better. Both are also the go-to scorers for the 1st and 2nd units, so Chandler should be able to take over Gallo's minutes with ease. If we look at the Per 36 statistics, Chandler looks much more promising, as his efficient stats translate well to the number of minutes an average starter plays. Chandler scores 18 a game, grabs more than 7 rebounds and a respectable 4 free throws per contest. He still doesn't pass as well as Gallinari, but the advanced statistics predict that Wilson Chandler should be fine in replacing Danilo Gallinari's minutes. However, remember that Chandler tends to play more against 2nd unit players.
Having played less than half of Gallo's minutes this season should make him one of the more rested and energetic players on the team. Danilo might have more of an ability to create his own shot, but Chandler should not have trouble doing so, with a stature of 6'8'' and 225 pounds - a good size for the SG/SF/PF hybrid role he's playing in George Karl's kooky lineups. In order to truly take over Gallo's role in the offense, Chandler will need to lead the Nuggets' half court offense, scoring points that aren't off of turnovers, fast breaks, or lobs. If Wilson is able to do that, Denver will be tough out in the post-season.
Denver is so deep of a team that bad injuries like these don't really impede their playing style. Since losing to New Orleans and San Antonio (ending their earlier franchise record 15 game win streak), the Nuggets have reeled off five wins, putting their record at 20-2 in their last 22 games. Having a 9 deep rotation is great for the regular season, as the wear and tear of each game is massively reduced, but as the Spurs learned last season, this deep rotation means much less in the postseason, where star players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook average more than 40 minutes per game. How will the Nuggets compensate when the stars of opposing teams begin to crank up the heat?
"When you don't make shots it's pretty easy fast break the way they did. I don't know what we were from 3 but it wasn't good. When you're that bad from the 3-point line and you turn it over at the same time people make runs."
Quickie Game Hash
Need to reiterate this fact: Going into the game, Denver had a 20 game win streak at home and haven't lost there in nearly three months.
The Spurs came into the game missing Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and Stephen Jackson while Denver was without leading scorers Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. Still, the Nuggets were confident that they could match up with the Spurs, especially at home. Denver started off on a bad note, failing to get anything out of their first 10 possessions are dug themselves into a 14-0 hole. The Nuggets clawed back, and closed the quarter down 7, 18-11. The second quarter went better for the Nuggets, who led at the break, 38-37, which was the lowest Spurs output for a half. The second half picked up as each team became more aggressive. The up-tempo play favored Denver's run'n'gun attack and Corey Brewer, Wilson Chandler, and JaVale McGee came out with good performances that essentially put the Spurs away The bottom of the Spurs bench clawed back from a 16 point deficit in the fourth quarter, getting within 5 with only a few minutes to go but failed to continue the run. Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan both had good games but, without Tony and Manu, the Spurs didn't have a shot. The back up guards (outside of Gary Neal) had bad games, as Patty Mills and Cory Joseph went a collective 2-14 FG with 5 turnovers.
My Game Boss
Even though Andre Iguodala could have been in this spot due to his triple-double, Wilson Chandler was the go-to man for the Nuggets. When they couldn't score consistently, he would give them a boost, and scored three straight baskets for Denver in a time when no one else was hitting shots.
My Game Runt
When you go against the Nuggets, you're going against good rebounders in Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Andre Iguodala, and Kosta Koufos. The Spurs needed someone to pick up the slack and Tiago didn't. Five Nuggets out-rebounded Tiago, including Koufos, who grabbed 10 in fewer minutes than Splitter. The four turnovers didn't help either, as they contributed to at least six points for Denver.
Numbers of Note
- 6 - Straight games that the Spurs have failed to hit the century mark. The last two times they did make it to 100, they won both games. Since then, they've gone 2-4.
- 53 - Rebounds by the Nuggets, 8 above their average. They out rebounded the Spurs by 10 - 4 on the offensive end and 6 defensively.
- 11 - Rebounds by Kawhi Leonard, a team high. No other Spur had more than six.
- 1 - Triple-Double, by Andre Iguodala, who scored 12 points, came down with 13 rebounds, and had 10 assists, to go along with 3 steals and 7 turnovers. He filled up the box score, that's for sure.
- 19% - Spurs' 3PT percentage against the Nuggets, their fourth lowest of the season. They had their highest (66.7%) vs Denver, but that was in San Antonio.
- 40.2% - Spurs' overall FG percentage, their eight lowest of the season. They hit only 40% against the Nuggets in their first meeting in Denver and have lost 8 of the 9 worst shooting games. What is troubling is that two of those games have come in Denver.
- 9 - Blocks by the Nuggets, with three huge ones by JaVale McGee in the first quarter. He likes to bring his A-game against the Spurs (like DeMarcus Cousins at times). I feel like he wants to prove something to Tim Duncan.
- 40% - Three point shooting by the Nuggets, nearly 6 percentage points better than their average.
- 92.3% - Denver Nuggets' winning percentage at home. They're 46% on the road.
- 56 - Nuggets' points in the paint, 10 more than the Spurs. That was also the margin of loss. Need to stop those fast breaks (21 points for Denver) in order to beat the Nuggets.
Odds & Ends
- Timmy did his best Kobe impersonation in the 1st frame, as he scored 10 in the first quarter, in which for most of the quarter, he beat the Nuggets in scoring early on all by himself.
- Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer filled in valiantly for the missing Danilo Gallinari, combining for 57 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 three-pointers.
- How many French players are in the NBA right now? There's three on the Spurs, one in Denver (Fourier), Portland (Batum), LA (Turiaf) and more scattered elsewhere with 11 in total. 4 of them would play if the Spurs face the Nuggets in the postseason. If Gallo wasn't hurt, the Nuggets would also contribute Italy, Greece and Russia. That's pretty international, considering teams like the Heat don't have a single non-American player.
- The Nuggets turned the game during the second half. I thought the Spurs had a chance even after the stinker they turned in for the first, and they got to a 6 point lead halfway to go in the quarter, when suddenly the Nuggets went on a 24-12 run, doubling our output in those last six minutes. They kept it going into the fourth, where they would go on a 13-0 run, and led by up to 19 points. Pop threw in the towel, and released Baynes, who grabbed 3 rebounds in his 6 minutes. Using fancy advanced stats, his per 36 numbers would translate to 12 points per game and 18 rebounds. He needs to start. Obviously kidding, but maybe he does deserve some minutes. He even blocked a shot. He's unlikely to see time in the playoffs, especially if Manu, Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw are healthy.
- The Spurs had some pretty good dunks by Kawhi, Tiago and DeJuan tonight. It was surprising athleticism against a team that thrives off of using their speed and leaping ability to lead the league in dunks and fast break points, at nearly 20 a game for the latter. They felt they needed to match some of that dunking, and showed off their skills. DeJuan is playing with the energy of someone who wants a contract next year, and I think he'll get a good offer somewhere out East. I could see Milwaukee offering him something, or even Miami.
- Western Playoff Picture: The Spurs are 2nd in the West now, don't think we should worry about it though. Houston is a single game behind Golden State for 7th, but looks like the first round opponent for the Spurs. I think they can take them. The Lakers beat Portland to stay in 8th, and will likely face the Thunder, who can probably sweep them out of the postseason. Who will guard Russell Westbrook AND Kevin Durant? Thabo can slow/frustrate Kobe, but the Lakers don't have an answer for the Thunder's stars.
Going into the Next Game, the Spurs Need to...
...thank the schedule maker above for a game finally against a sub .500 opponent. The Spurs want to rest their players but aren't relinquishing their grip on the 1st seed just yet. With the loss against the Nuggets, they fell to second in the West. If they beat the Kings, the Spurs clinch the 2nd seed at the very least and home court advantage for two rounds.
stats from stats.nba.com, basketball-reference.com and ESPN