Denver Nuggets Game Preview: Crucial game vs. Spurs

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Denver Nuggets enter a crucial stage of their first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs when the two sides meet on Saturday in Game four.

Bad habits crept into Denver’s Game three performance in a 118-108 defeat to San Antonio at AT&T Center on Thursday night. After excelling on defense for two months, the Nuggets couldn’t stay in front of the opposition on the perimeter and struggled internally as well. The hosts had a 62-42 edge in points in the paint.

Still, this series is far from over.

Up until the fourth quarter, the Nuggets had shown plenty of positives, especially from Nikola Jokić and the team’s bench unit. Denver’s reserves dropped 50 points on Thursday. If the team can build on those two factors, it could be the difference in tying the series up this weekend.

Here are some keys to Game four:

Defense has to get back to its best

The Nuggets had drawn praise for slowing down LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan in the first two games, holding the Spurs star duo to a combined 41.3 percent shooting. In Game three, Denver allowed both players to get comfortable and they shot 48.5 percent.

Game three showcased what can happen when Derrick White isn’t covered as a threat. The second-year guard had a career-high 36 points on 15-for-21 shooting. The Spurs point guard averaged 9.9 points on 47.9 percent shooting in the regular season but has thrived in the postseason in part due to getting uncontested shots. On Thursday, White had 12 uncontested shot attempts, which he converted eight of.

In order to slow down the Spurs guard, the Nuggets might consider tweaking defensive scheme and looks. For example, when Gary Harris covered White on 13.4 percent of his offensive possessions, he was 0-for-1 with zero points.

Nikola Jokić’s rise:

The Serbian isn’t getting much fanfare in the postseason, but he should.

The Nuggets All-Star center is third in the NBA playoffs in assists with 9.7 per game. Reread that again. He’s also averaging 17.7 points, 11.7 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor.

READ MORE: Jokić quietly impressing in playoff debut

Jokić has improved his scoring output with each game in the first round against the Spurs, going for 10, 21 and 22 points in the first three games. The Nuggets will need more of the same if they want to return to Denver with a 2-2 series.

Keep feeding Malik

As much as the Nuggets have had their issues with White, the same could be said about the Spurs in guarding Malik Beasley.

Denver’s reserve guard continued his hot hand against San Antonio by pouring in 20 points on Thursday, including a sizzling hot 5 of 6 from downtown. Beasley has been averaging almost 13 points per game off the bench against the Spurs and could be primed for more minutes in Game 4.

“Whether it’s a lineup change or just getting guys into the game quicker, which is probably what I’d lean to right now,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said after Game three. “This group has helped us win 54 games, and if I have to get guys in the game earlier because they’re playing at a higher level, I’d do so. Coaching’s never personal.”

Beasley’s recent success against San Antonio isn’t anything new. He was also successful against the team in the regular season, averaging 19.3 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting.

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