(Denver-CO) After starting this season riddled with injuries, the San Antonio Spurs have returned to their old form of fundamentally sound basketball resulting in the W’s getting stacked. Since a 5-5 start in their first ten games, the Spurs are 28-9 since that mediocre point of the season and now hold a solid grip on second place in the Western Conference by two games over the Nuggets. Denver was able to defeat the Spurs in the first meeting between these two teams, but San Antonio made short work of the Nuggets in round two.
If there is any immediate advantage for the Nuggets in tonight’s game it will be that San Antonio is in the midst of their annual rodeo road trip where the Spurs play eight consecutive games away from the Alamo City. Last night, the Spurs needed a tremendous 18-6 run late in the fourth quarter to force overtime against the Golden State Warriors before emerging victorious for their eighth win in nine games. Hopefully, this means the Spurs will be tired physically and emotional sapped after the overtime thriller against the Warriors, but I’m not counting on it. The Spurs are chalked full of veterans that know how to regroup after such outings.
With that being said, to beat the Spurs, you can’t beat yourself.
The Nuggets will need a very efficient overall performance to beat the Spurs. That means the unforced miscues have to be kept to an absolute minimum and that leaves me a little nervous when considering how Denver likes to play. The Nuggets have committed the fourth most turnovers in the NBA this season while the Spurs have committed the second fewest. San Antonio also allows the fewest offensive rebounds per game and play at such a snail’s pace that if you waste precious possessions offensively with turnovers and bad shots you’ll find yourself wondering “what if” as the Spurs suffocate any and all chance for a win from the very air you breathe.
San Antonio has managed to win 33 games this season with the offensive trident of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu “The Flopper” Ginobili. Both Parker and Duncan are averaging just a shade over 20 points per game while Manu is third on the team in scoring with an average of 15.3 ppg. You might be thinking to yourself, “Well, the Nuggets should be able to outscore the Spurs any given night of the week”, but the truth be told on how the Spurs win games is in the pace at which they play. As a team, they average 97.4 points per game, but that decent output offensively in combination with an instinctual way of capitalizing on their opposition’s misfortunes before clamping down defensively where they allow 94 points per game is a recipe for victory long patented by Coach Gregg Popovich. And within that recipe are a few spices only discernible to the acute NBA palette. For instance, the Spurs allow the fewest opposing free-throws per game in the NBA. This could be because Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have still yet to ever commit a foul in an NBA game. But, in all honesty, this could be a pivotal aspect of this match-up because the Nuggets are still shooting the most (31.2) and making the most (23.6) free-throws league-wide.
The marquee match-up in tonight’s game will be Nene vs. Tim Duncan in the post. We’ve seen how well Nene can hold his own offensively against the Big Fundamental, but it’s defensively where Big Brazil has his work cut out for him. Duncan definitely got the better of Nene in San Antonio’s win over the Nuggets on December 4th with a stat line of 21 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks, but in the last six games the artist formerly known as Hilario has been pouring it on. During that stretch, Nene has averaged 17.8 points on 68.9 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds over his last six games, including a 10-for-11 shooting performance against the Bobcats and a 12-12 performance against the Jazz.
For the Nuggets, this game is a great test before they too hit the road for eight straight games away from Pepsi Center. On the immediate horizon are the putrid Thunder and the even worse Wizards to get the long odyssey on its way, but for Denver to really have a good feeling before packing their bags they have to take care of business tonight because immediately following those two nearly sure wins are a slew of very tough games.