As is the case seemingly every year, the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff picture is a fracas, with a game-and-a-half separating five teams, and the perennially up-and-coming Denver Nuggets are right in the thick of it.
Denver heads into San Antonio at 22-20 on a SEGABABA and amid one of their uglier stretches of play this season. They did snap a three-game losing streak last night, but only by pulling away in the second half against a Grizzlies team that appears to have very little interest in winning basketball games right now.
The Spurs meanwhile are losers of two of their three, mustering only 81 points (and 21 turnovers) in Los Angeles against the 14-27 Lakers, the 12th time this season that San Antonio’s scored 90 or fewer points. Luckily they’re home for this one, where they’ve taken care of business better than any other team thus far.
San Antonio Spurs (28-15) vs. Denver Nuggets (22-20)
January 13, 2018 | 7:30 PM CT
Watch: FSSW, Listen: WOAI
Spurs injuries: Danny Green (groin), Tony Parker (ankle), Rudy Gay (heel), Kawhi Leonard (shoulder)
Nuggets injuries: Paul Millsap (wrist), Gary Harris (personal)
Holes at the one
The Spurs and Nuggets have both seen drop-offs on the offensive end of the floor from last season to this season, SA dropping from seventh to 15th, and the Nuggets from fifth to ninth. You can point to the fact that two have missed their star players (Denver lost Paul Millsap after 16 games), but there’s another bugaboo that both teams share: point-guard play.
Thirty-five-year-old Tony Parker has been terrific for San Antonio, but his minutes are capped, he isn’t playing back-to-backs, and he sustained an ankle injury in the win over the Kings. When he’s off the floor, as he was for all of Thursday’s loss to LA, the Spurs’ 15th ranked offense sputters, struggling to generate any traction out of the pick and roll.
For the Nuggets, the position remains a fluid one. They waived Jameer Nelson at the start of the season and former lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay has played four total minutes over the past 13 games. A combination of Jamal Murray and Will Barton has helped them tread water, but Murray is not yet a natural playmaker, and Barton is more of a scoring wing.
Fortunately for both teams, there’s help in the frontcourt. Nikola Jokic may be the best passing big man in the league, while Pau Gasol has taken on more facilitating duties himself. Their matchup should be a fun one.
Avoiding another slow start
Cold starts and strong finishes have been a throughline of this Spurs season, which isn’t too surprising given the high number of starting-lineup variations and the shakeups they’ve caused with the team’s rotations. The Good Guys have a negative rating in the first half and a +7.4 rating in the second.
Home sweet home
At this point, I wouldn’t comfortably bet on the Spurs on the road against any team. Not after a lackluster effort against a young, albeit locked in, Lakers squad. They’re now 10-13 playing away and have people wondering whether they’ll end the year with a sub-0.500 away record.
At the AT&T Center, it’s a different story. No team has more home wins than the Spurs (18), and only the Raptors have as few losses (2). It’s unclear right now who plays for them tonight — Tony Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard were all listed as questionable on Friday — but it may not matter given how solid the play at home has been.
Vegas Line: Spurs by 4.
Game Prediction: Spurs by 10.
For the Nuggets fan’s 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.