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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs @ Denver Nuggets

The Spurs complete up their three-game road trip out west with a matchup against the Denver Nuggets.

Doug Pensinger

San Antonio Spurs @ Denver Nuggets

Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
November 5, 2013, 8:00 PM Spurs Time

After suffering their first loss of the year on Saturday to the Trail Blazers, the Spurs will look to finish their three-game road trip on a high note this Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets. Denver finished last year with the third-best record in the West, winning a franchise-high 57 games. But after being bounced in the first round of the playoffs, the team underwent a full franchise makeover, which included the firing of Coach of the Year winner George Karl and the departure of star small forward Andre Iguodala. With a number of injuries and lineup questions still left to answer, new head coach Brian Shaw certainly has his work cut out for him.

It's been a rough start for the former Phil Jackson pupil, whose team has struggled mightily in its two opening losses -- including one to the same Portland team that just defeated the Spurs. Denver will look to avoid starting 0-3 for the second year in a row.

There are many reasons for Denver's slow start, but the main one may be how JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried struggle to fit in together. While McGee's length and athletic ability make him a formidable shot-blocker and a force on the boards, his limited offensive skill-set clashes with that of Denver's other promising young big, Faried. Both players need to be in the lane to be at all effective, and neither has the mid-range jumper to give the other space to work. The two may clog the lane effectively on defense, but they do the same on the other end when Denver is trying to run a half-court offense. The solution might be as simple as not giving up on Faried as a sixth man. He's played much better when paired with everyone's favorite poster mate, Timofey Mozgov, in a bench role.

Unfortunately the Nuggets' talented but raw frontcourt may continue to be just that - talented but raw - without a specialized assistant coach to help develop their skills. There's no former power forward or center currently on Shaw's coaching staff, which means that guys like McGee, Faried, Mozgov, Anthony Randolph, J.J. Hickson and Darrell Arthur might remain intriguing prospects that don't yet fulfil their potential. Denver's bigs will rely on their athleticism to grab some boards over San Antonio's more - let's say - grounded frontcourt, but their lack of experience and discipline should result in a number of miscues, as well.

The Nuggets' issues extend further away from the basket, as the team sorely misses the production of small forwards Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. The duo could be counted on for at least 30 combined points each game, and they gave Denver a true presence at small forward at all times.

With those two out, Shaw's been forced to employ a three-guard lineup that often hurts Denver on the defensive side of the court. There's a number of skilled guards on the team, including Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Evan Fournier, Randy Foye and Andre Miller. This lack of size allows opposing guards to bully the duo when Denver has the ball and for opponents to shoot over the top without a real hand in their face from the perimeter. The Nuggets have allowed teams to shoot over 50 percent from behind the arc this season, and could mean plenty of looks for Danny Green, who's yet to get going so far this year.

No matter what though, backcourt height will be a major issue for them, especially when they play Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson at the same time. The two can certainly provide moments of electricity, but one would have to stand on the other's shoulders inside a trenchcoat to get into an R movie.

The Nuggets are a talented team that will likely end up back in the Western Conference Playoffs, but they're definitely going to be working out kinks over the first month of the season as Shaw settles into being the main man while having to tinker with lineups that present challenges at every turn.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are the premium shampoo of the NBA. Win, rinse and repeat. The Nuggets have yet to find that formula to rely on nightly, which is one of the main keys to regular season success. Who are the Spurs? I think most of us around the country can answer that question pretty easily. Asking the same question about the Nuggets will provide a lot more confusion because they are still trying to find out what type of basketball team it needs to be in order to get back to the top of the Western Conference standings.

For the Spurs this'll be a FIGASENI, with matchups against the Suns, Warriors, Knicks and Sixers all coming up within the next seven days. We'll see how Pop takes that into account when giving his starters playing time.

Matchup to watch: While San Antonio is clearly the better team, the athleticism that Denver can put on the court in the front or backcourt can cause problems for anyone in the league. I'll be watching to see how San Antonio matches up with Denver when the Nuggets put the dual-point guard lineup of Robinson and Lawson on the floor at the same time. Will Popovich match the small-ball with a guy like Patty Mills playing alongside Tony Parker or will Pop stay true to his rotation and try to off-set any athletic advantage by forcing Denver to defend the size of San Antonio on the perimeter?


    PG: Tony Parker
    SG: Danny Green
    SF: Kawhi Leonard
    PF: Tiago Splitter
    C: Tim Duncan

    Key Bench Players
    Manu Ginobili
    Marco Belinelli
    Boris Diaw

    Head Coach
    Gregg Popovich


    PG: Ty Lawson
    SG: Randy Foye
    SF: Anthony Randolph
    PF: J.J. Hickson
    C: JaVale McGee

    Key Bench Players
    Nate Robinson
    Kenneth Faried
    Andre Miller

    Head Coach

    Brian Shaw

    The Memphis perspective can be found here: Denver Stiffs

    Game Prediction: Spurs by six, or three Javale McGee goaltending violations

    As always, Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.

    Get your San Antonio Spurs tickets here!