Having gone 2-8 in their last ten contests and riding a four game losing streak, I think it’s safe to say that the San Antonio Spurs are reeling right now.
So it’s pretty bloody unfortunate that they have to face the surging Denver Nuggets in two consecutive games while the Silver and Black are mired in the what likely qualifies as the franchise’s worst stretch since David Robinson broke his foot in December of the ‘96-’97 season.
After losing the the first match in a game that was a bit closer than expected, the Spurs will again be forced to try and take down one of the NBA’s hottest and most explosive teams, whose weakest link (defense) has been strongly supplemented by the addition of former Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon.
At this point in the season, we know who the Nuggets are: A powerhouse offense that ranks 3rd in scoring, 2nd in offensive rating, 2nd in assist ratio, 3rd in assist/turnover ratio, 5th in effective field goal percentage, 4th in true shooting percentage, 2nd in offensive rebounding (4th overall), all while maintaining the 5th best shooting percentage from three.
To put it simply, in spite of the focus being placed on other ‘sexier’ teams, the Nuggets are a quiet juggernaut, hard to stop when they’re off, and nigh impossible when they’re on. Even at their best, the Spurs would have had their hands full with a team so offensively versatile, but in their current state, well...I suppose odder things have occurred.
Additionally, the acquisition of Gordon appears to have plugged the one match-up advantage the Spurs might have had, with DeRozan and Keldon Johnson now facing much stouter resistance to their forays to the rim.
While we may not have as clear an view of San Antonio’s identity as we do of Denver’s, I think it’s safe to say that the Spurs are handily outmatched in this one, which does lend itself to a certain viewing advantage. If the Spurs are handily defeated, it will come as no shock considering the current state of the team (see also: five losses by 15 or more points in the last ten games). If make it a close contest, it can be taken as a moral victory and perhaps a sign of improvement. And if they manage to steal one on Denver’s home court?
Well, that’s just gravy, baby.
April 8, 2021 | 8:00 PM CT
Watch: FSSW | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)
Spurs Injuries: Lonnie Walker IV - Out (Wrist), Keita Bates-Diop - Out (Hamstring), Trey Lyles - Out (ankle)
Nuggets Injuries: Jamal Murray - Out (Knee), Shaquille Harrison - (Day-to-Day)
What to watch for:
- The Dieng Effect(?): Since LaMarcus Aldridge’s first absence and Jakob Poeltl’s much deserved elevation to the starting lineup the second unit has struggled to find a suitable replacement from amongst their internal options. Spunky though he may be, Drew Eubanks simply lacks the physical tools to really be effective outside of spot minutes and lanky and lean Trey Lyles and Luka Samanic are unable to function as even moderately effective rim protectors at the 5. Enter Gorgui Dieng. The low key flurry of trade deadline activity coming from San Antonio allowed for the Spurs to dip their toes in the buyout market and swoop in to grab one of the best buyout bigs before anyone else. Unfortunately, the payoff from the front office’s calculated gamble has yet to come to fruition, as Dieng injured his shoulder six minutes into his first game with the Silver and Black. Dieng has since returned, but he’s acknowledged that his shoulder hasn’t fully recovered and that’s he playing through the injury. Whether the injury has contributed to his playing time and effectiveness is hard to know from the outside, but with Lyles continuing to be out and Luka’s playing time constantly in a state of flux, we’re likely going to find out exactly what Dieng has to offer over the next few games, and to be frank, San Antonio desperately needs for him to be the floor stretching, shrewd defending big that he historically has been. If Dieng can do that, the Spurs might just bust this slump sooner than later.
- The Clash of the European Titans: On a related front, the Spurs need Jakob Poeltl to figure out how to deal with Nikola Jokic, and fast. It goes without saying that Jokic is at the center of everything that Denver does well, and with Denver stronger on the wings, it’s actually Poeltl who has the potential to be Denver’s most difficult matchup. An extraordinarily gifted rim protector, Jakob is capable of handling most bigs, but Jokic’s bulk and passing savvy have stymied Poeltl since their first significant meeting in the first round of the playoffs back in 2019. And while he’s done a decent job dealing with one of the three best big men in the league, he’s still going to need to step it up a bit in order for the Spurs to be able to deal with the Nuggets, both in the present and the future. And I think we can all agree that now’s as good a time as any to make some big steps in that direction.
For the Nuggets’ fans’ perspective, visit Denver Stiffs.
PtR’s Game thread 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.