The Denver Nuggets are easily one of the most surprising teams of the season. At 51-25, they’ve already improved on the 46 wins they had last year and have held the West’s 1 seed a few times. They’ve also taken a huge step defensively, going from 25th in defensive rating last year to 10th this season. Nikola Jokic has emerged as a real star and potential MVP candidate, while their role players, particularly on the perimeter, have shown great promise.
And yet, as great as their season has been, they’ve been locked in battle with the Warriors for the top seed, but now also have to fend off the streaking Houston Rockets, who are right on their heels with 49 wins. As well as Denver has played for much of the season, they’ll go into the final stretch without a clear lead on a particular playoff seed.
The Spurs are looking for as many wins as possible as they try to play themselves into the form that they flashed during an 9-game win streak end of February through early March that effectively saved their season. With both teams on a SEGABABA, they’ll try to finish what they failed to do the last time they played in Denver and come out with a win.
San Antonio Spurs (45-33) at Denver Nuggets (51-26)
April 2, 2019 | 8:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW| Listen: WOAI
Spurs Injuries: Dejounte Murray (ACL — out)
Nuggets Injuries: None
How well does San Antonio actually match up with the Nuggets?
It’s easy to look at a record and go, “that’s who we want in the playoffs!” The Spurs are 2-1 on the season against Denver and were dangerously close to both winning another AND losing another. The first win, a 111-103 win in San Antonio featured big games from LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan with balanced scoring for the rest of the roster. They were also able to take away Jokic’s scoring opportunities by limiting him to just 5 shots. The loss came after the best free throw shooting team in the league went just 50% from the stripe the last 2 minutes, ensuring a 102-99 Nuggets win.
The second win also came down to free throws, with the Spurs once again not making their freebies and putting the game in the hands of their much-maligned defense. With the score at 104-103 for the better part of the final minute, they were able to prevent 3 shots from going in for Denver to escape with a Spurs win, but the margin could have been much safer if Rudy Gay had managed to sink at least one of the 2 free throws he took with under 10 seconds to play.
So the Spurs have two wins over the Nuggets, neither really convincing, and a loss that really didn’t feel like they couldn’t win. With a roster full of dynamic guards such as Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, and Most Improved Player candidate Malik Beasley, it would make sense that Denver would be able to run rough-shod on a Spurs defense that has struggled all season to defend the perimeter, but it really hasn’t happened outside of the loss in Denver where Murray and Beasley combined for 52 points and 6 makes from beyond the arc.
With both teams still battling for playoff seeding, expect this game to show a bit of what we may see from Denver should they meet with San Antonio in the first round. Which brings me to my next question . . .
How much will Pop show?
This is the last SEGABABA the Spurs will have to deal with for the rest of the season. In years past, Pop has opted to start sitting some of his heavy horses for the postseason, but he really can’t afford to do that this season with playoff seeding still up in the air. A SEGABABA in Denver is also much different from a normal SEGABABA because of the altitude.
If for some reason the game gets out of hand early, expect some minutes from Lonnie Walker IV and less minutes for guys like DeMar, LaMarcus, Derrick White, and Rudy Gay. White in particular has looked like he could use a night off, but as the key to the competency of the Spurs’ defense, it’s tough for him to sit out. The Rodeo Road Trip showed what kind of team this is when he’s not out there, something Pop is surely aware of.
As long as there’s still something to play for, though, expect to see the regulars get their usual minutes as long as the games are within reach.
Vegas Line: Nuggets by 4
Prediction: Spurs by 3
For the visitor’s perspective, please visit Denver Stiffs.
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.