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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Denver Nuggets

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The Spurs conclude their brief homestand with a showdown against the young, athletic Nuggets.

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

We’re approaching the point of the season where teams need to decide on their direction going forward. This is a particularly vexing question for middling franchises like the Denver Nuggets: should they push for the eight seed in what will ultimately culminate in a brutal first-round sweep or tank it out and look for some talent in the draft?

On the one hand, reaching the postseason would be great motivation for a young, talented roster and gives them something to build on for the future. An up-and-coming roster with a strong fan backing could be just what Denver needs to attract big name free agents this offseason, too. On the other hand, a demoralizing four games against Golden State could be more detrimental than anything else. If they’re going to take this playoff push seriously, Denver needs to address a few issues going forward, starting tonight in San Antonio.

Denver Nuggets (22-26) at San Antonio Spurs (38-11)

Feb. 4, 2017 | 8:00 pm CDT

Watch: FSSW; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Nuggets injuries: Nikola Jokic (hip), Will Barton (ankle), Emmanuel Mudiay (back)

Spurs injuries: Pau Gasol (hand)

The offense is good – not great

The Nuggets’ offense is… fine. Sure, they score nearly 111 ppg (good for third in the league) and they place in the top third for most offensive categories, but I feel like they should expect more from such an offensively-potent group.

Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are solid wings, Gary Harris has the makings of Bradley Beal 2.0 and Nikola Jokic should certainly be in the conversation for top bigs in the league. Along with this, they’ve got an exciting trio of hyper-athletic ball-handling guards in Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Will Barton. With all of this talent, they should be closer to the top of the offensive leaderboards.

Perhaps the offense would be more potent if their core rotation could stay healthy (discussed later). Of course, the offense needs to be optimized because…

The defense is terrible

I tried to articulate just how bad Denver’s defense is, but I just don’t think I can do it justice. They allow the third-most points in the paint, the second-most points off turnovers and the second-highest field-goal percentage. The Nuggets generate the fewest turnovers per game, which you could theoretically point to as an indication of a conservative defensive scheme, if it weren’t for the fact that they are also 19th in the league for personal fouls. If you look at just about any defensive stat this year, I guarantee that Denver is near the bottom third of the league or worse.

These numbers are especially galling considering Head Coach Michael Malone made a name for himself in Sacramento with his effective defensive sets despite a heavily flawed roster. He now has the athletic components necessary to form some sort of defensive stopping machine, but it just hasn’t worked out. Part of the problem could likely be driven by the fact that…

The team can’t stay healthy

To no fault of their own, the Denver Nuggets have been absolutely decimated by injuries. Our friends at Denver Stiffs even made a video showing how bad it had been 25 games into the season:

Things haven’t gotten much better since, with Harris, Jokic, Barton and Mudiay all missing time with various ailments. Having some sort of rotation consistency would be a big step going forward for this team and could drastically improve their play on both ends of the floor.

Matchup to watch: Nikola Jokic vs. his hip. The Nuggets are stacked with offensive talent and certainly don’t have any problems putting up huge scoring games without their talented Serbian big; they have averaged 119.5 ppg since Jokic sat with his hip injury. However, Denver shoots worse from everywhere, assists less and turns the ball over more without him. And despite Nikola’s reputation as a turnstile defender, the team actually has a better defensive rating with him on the floor than without. All of this is to say that Jokic is a key piece – if not the key piece – for Denver, and things could get ugly for them fast tonight if he’s not at 100%.

Vegas line: N/A

Game prediction: Spurs by 9.

For the Nuggets fans' perspective, visit Denver Stiffs.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

PtR's Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR's Twitter feed.